Publishing The Word

William Miller’s contact with Joshua Himes was a game changer for the Millerite Movement. Himes encountered Miller’s preaching in New Hampshire and immediately snapped him up to preach at the Chardon Street Chapel in Boston. Miller was happy to oblige and preached there to packed audiences in December of 1839. Later Himes invited Father Miller to his home and excitedly proclaimed that he would make sure Miller gained access into every city in the Union. Miller was a reticent farmer from New England who had discovered one of the most powerful prophetic messages in the Bible, Himes was an energetic, jack-of-all-trades visionary dynamo with enough energy to power a small city. The partnership was bound to yield tremendous results and it did.

Within weeks Himes had seized his new career as a publicist and brand evangelist for the Millers messages with gusto. He arranged for Miller to preach in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington catapulting Miller onto a stage of action he was completely unfamiliar with. Up to that point Miller had made headway in small New England towns and villages but with the arrival of Joshua V. Himes, Miller was given access to thousands of Americans in the bustling metropolis’ all along the east coast.

But Himes was not content to simply give Miller speaking access. He knew that the message needed a much wider reach and a much faster method to be broadcast. In February of 1840, while Miller was busy preaching in Boston, Himes published “The Signs of the Times”, the first newspaper designed to broadcast Miller’s views regarding the second advent. Himes lacked the funds and also a sturdy subscription base to ensure the continued publication of the missive but that didn’t deter him from venturing out on a limb to start the enterprise.

As it turned out, Dow and Jackson, the antislavery publishers whom Himes engaged to print the paper were willing to bank on the project. They believed that interest in the Second Advent had grown so much that a regular newspaper devoted to the subject would sell and sell in spades. They offered to assume financial responsibility for keeping the paper alive and publishing it semi-monthly if Himes was willing to produce content for the periodical and work on a subscription list. Hime was willing to take on the job as a volunteer and so the enterprise was begun.

At the end of the first year of publication “The Signs of the Times” had a subscription base of 1500 people and Himes persuaded Dow and Jackson to sell the paper to him. By 1842 the paper had gained so much traction that Himes began to publish it weekly and nine months after that Josiah Litch was hired as associate editor. But “The Signs”  was not the only Millerite paper. It was the first of a host of other Millerite periodicals that were published over the next few years with varying degrees of success but with the same vision of telling the world of the second advent of Jesus.

In addition to the plethora of publications Himes also became ina key figure in curating and producing a series of tracts and books written by Miller and other Advent preachers called the Second Advent Library. Those who accepted Miller’s teachings were encouraged to buy and lend copies of these materials to their friends and neighbours. Himes also worked closely with Charles Fitch and Apollos Hale to produce and publicise the early prophetic chart which Fitch and Hale developed for use in 1842. All in all, Himes worked incredibly hard to use the printed word as a means of broadcasting the second advent throughout America and publishing played a huge part in the forward momentum of the Millerite Movement. By May of 1844, Himes estimated that more than five million copies of Advent literature had been distributed across the country.

The Advent Conferences

As Adventism rapidly blossomed across the east coast and elsewhere many of its converts were clergymen or local thought leaders. The rapid proliferation of the message and its unique appeal to men who stood in positions of leadership led to a need to convene the movers and shakers of the young movement for a conference.

The purpose of the conference was originally intended to be a forum to share ideas and discuss various different viewpoint and to also offer much needed spiritual support and fellowship. And so it was that on October 14, 1840, the first General Conference of Advent believers was convened in the Chardon Street Chapel in Boston. Father Miller was set to give the keynote address but fell ill en route and was unable to attend. In his absence Henry Dana Ward, an Episcopalian rector was elected to chair the conference.

While there was no consensus on the date that Miller had set for Christ’s return everyone agreed on a pre-millennial advent. Another thing they all agreed on was that such an advent would take place very very soon. 200 delegates from a wide variety of churches attended that first General Conference and one of the most fascinating features of the conference was the introduction of the “social meeting” which was basically an open forum for delegates to publicly share their personal faith in the belief of Christ’s soon return. It was a part of the program that offered a lot of mutual spiritual encouragement and strengthened the faith of each of the delegates.

The conference turned out to be so successful that at least 15 others were held over the next three years. The Philadelphia convention, held in the Chinese Museum which had a seating capacity of 5000, was reportedly packed to suffocation. In addition to the General Conferences, smaller local conferences were organised that had more of an evangelistic and revivalistic flavour to them.

From the outset, Miller had been adamant that his intentions were purely to draw attention to the nearness of Christ’s Second Advent and not to start a new denomination. However as more and more conferences were held and the publishing work progressed at an amazing speed, a kind of skeletal organizational structure organically sprang up to support and administer the work.

While Advent believers were encouraged to remain in their respective denominations they were also encouraged to come together to form small Bible Study groups for the purpose of mutual spiritual encouragement and social interaction with each other. They were also encouraged to question their ministers about the second advent and to freely circulate Millerite tracts among their families, friends and local congregations.

At the same time, Advent believers provided the funds to appoint Josiah Litch as their first general agent. Litch left his pastoral work in the Methodist Episcopal Conference to devote himself solely to the work of promulgating Adventist ideas, thus become the first paid Adventist gospel worker. Miller, however, travelled entirely at his own expense and received reimbursement for board and lodging only.

By May 1842 the first Second Advent Association was organised, which was essentially a local Adventist church but in embryonic form. The first association, which was organised in New York City, was equipped with elected officials, an executive committee and hired a local hall for regular Sunday afternoon meetings.

The Millerite Camp Meetings

By June 1842 the first Adventist Camp meeting was held in East Kingston, New Hampshire and around the same time, the Canadian Adventists spontaneously organised a camp meeting in Eastern Quebec to coincide with Josiah Litch’s presence in Canada.

It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people attended the American meetings at some point during the week-long session. The East Kingston Camp meeting was so successful that instead of running just the 3 camp meetings that were scheduled for the summer of 1842, 31 were held. The program consisted of 3 general open-air meetings a day which were held in huge tents. The camp meetings were mostly attended by Advent believers but there were also the curious and from time to time the rowdy inebriated town hooligans who would descend on the site to wreak havoc. All in all the camp meetings were anything but dull.

Before the East Kingston camp meetings ended Himes had collected enough money to commission Adventist tentmaker Edward Williams of Rochester, New York to make the largest tent in the country. The Great Tent, as it came to be known, was pitched for the first time in July 1842 on a small hill in Concord, New Hampshire.

Date Setting

Miller originally predicted that Jesus would return to earth at some point during 1843. However many of the Adventist believers were unsatisfied by the vagueness of the prediction and pressed for a more specific date which Miller was unwilling to deliver. Many of the Advent believers then went ahead and began to set dates themselves based on speculation and the anniversaries of important historical events. Like the belief that Jesus would return on the 14th of April, 1843 because it was the anniversary of crucifixion. However, as each date came and went some of the Millerite Adventists lost their faith and left the movement but not enough to cause any significant dent in the overall numbers of Millerites.

Miller was plagued with ill health and didn’t travel much during 1843 but interest in the Second Advent continued to snowball as the year progressed.

Lesser Known Preachers

 

During this time among the Millerites, there were the staple shining luminaries of the movement like Fitch, Litch, Himes, George Storrs, Miller himself and others. But there were also lesser-known preachers who preached to smaller congregations in homes and country school houses who also made a significant impact.

Among these was James White. White travelled extensively, armed with three lectures, a borrowed horse and a patched saddle. At one stage he reported 1000 conversions after a six-week stint of lectures. His made such a huge impact that he was ordained as a minister of the Christian Connection. While James White was a lesser light among the Millerites, he would go on to become one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Then there was Elon Galusha. Galusha was a young Baptist minister in Lockport, New York he also happened to be the son of the Governor of Vermont who had signed Miller’s commission during the great war of 1812. Like White, Galusha too made a considerable impact on behalf of the second advent movement.

Intolerance

 
 

As the Millerite movement gained momentum and grew in numbers there were clashes between the Millerites and established denominations. Each party became more and more intolerant of the views of the other and many churches began to close their doors to Millerite preachers and messages. These churches also looked to discipline those of their members who embraced Millerite teachings.

One example of church discipline gone rouge was the case of Elder Levi Stockman. Elder Stockman refused to stop preaching Millerite doctrine and as a result, was tried for heresy. At the time of his hearing Stockman was fatally ill with consumption and not only was he threatened with expulsion from the church but he was also told that if he didn’t comply his wife and children would be denied any pension benefits. Stockman refused to bow under pressure and he was expelled from the ministry just weeks before his death.

By the summer of 1843, the relationship between Millerite Adventists and the established Protestant denominations was terse. Many Adventists wondered if they should withdraw from their denomination but an announcement in the “The Signs of the Time” encouraged them to stay put. They were also encouraged to share their faith among those they were associated with.

Come Out Of Babylon

 
 
 

But while “The Signs of the Times”  was encouraging people to stay, Charles Fitch, arguably the most beloved of all Millerite preachers, was promulgating the message of Revelation 18 in which an angelic messenger proclaims the fall of Babylon and calls people to come out of her. Fitch identified Babylon as the entire Christian world who had refused to accept the nearness of the Second Advent.

Fitch’s call for separation was greeted somewhat coolly by most Millerite leaders but some like George Storrs and Joseph Marsh embraced it heartily. Storrs, however, warned Adventists who separated from their old churches to be careful that they did not manufacture a new church because in his mind any movement that was organised by man’s invention would become Babylon the moment it was organised.

As 1843 progressed into 1844 Marsh’s voice was the most prominent in calling Adventists to separate from their churches, stating that it was wrong to continue to financially support organisations that had rejected the truth of Christ’s soon return. In the early fall of 1844, Himes became an open though somewhat reluctant proponent of this branch of the movement as well though Miller could not bring himself to call for a distinct separation. Later when Miller’s own Low Hampton Baptist congregation expelled him and his followers he accepted the action without bitterness or resentment but showed genuine sadness at the decision.

The deterioration of the relationship between the Millerite movement and the established churches may account for the derogatory and somewhat cruel jibes that were aimed at the Millerites by means of personal mocking or cartoons which appeared in the press. These insults grew in volume and intensity with each passing date that the Millerites continued to set throughout 1843.

As early as 1842 papers began to claim that Millerite doctrine led to increased insanity and suicide. Millerite leaders, however, were just too busy spreading the truth to have the time or the care to respond to or even be fazed by these claims

Revising Chronology

Throughout 1843 criticism from their opponents forced Adventist leaders to revise their chronology.  As a result, Himes, Litch, Apollos Hale, Sylvester Bliss and others became more convinced of the necessity to really figure out when the year 1843 would come to an end according to the strictest reckoning of the Jewish calendar. As they dug into the matter they came to the conclusion that the Jewish year extended from April 1843 to April 1844 and specifically to sundown on the 18th of April 1844. But when April 1844 came and went and the year 1843 had expired, Jesus had still not come. Many were disillusioned and decided that Miller had understood the prophecies entirely wrong. The majority, however, though discouraged and disappointed still clung to their beliefs and focused on combing through the prophecies once more to try to figure out what had happened.

For his part, Miller manfully admitted that there had been an error in his calculations but encouraged believers by pointing to Habakkuk 2:3 which promised that though the vision would tarry it would surely come to pass. Some Millerite papers then began to make reference to the tarrying time spoken of in the parable of the ten virgins.

By the early summer of 1844, the kerfuffle had been smoothed over and the Millerite movement was back on its feet with all guns blazing. It was during this time that Millerite preachers realised that there was no zero year in the transition between B.C. and A.D. and came to the conclusion that the 2300 day prophecy would end on an unknown day during the year 1844.

The Seventh-Month Movement

 

 
 

Samuel Snow provided the longed-for kindling that lit the entire movement ablaze and brought it to a heated edge in the summer of 1844. Snow had been converted from infidelity by Miller’s messages and was travelling and preaching extensively by 1842. Snow engaged in intensive study of the Mosaic tabernacle and the Jewish festivals. These studies led him to the conclusion and conviction that Jesus would return on the day of atonement in the year 1844 which fell on the 10th day of the seventh month, which in the year 1844 was the 22nd of October.

Snow began promoting this position in New York City during the winter of 1843-44. At first, other Adventist leaders paid little attention to him, though interestingly enough Miller himself had floated the same ideas in May 1843. As 1844 wore on Snow became more and more energetic in his promotion of these ideas but still, no major Adventist leaders were willing to take the bait.

All that changed however at the Exeter, New Hampshire Camp Meeting of 1844. Joseph Bates was speaking at one of the meetings when Snow rode up on horseback and soon engaged in conversation with his sister who was among those in the congregation. After hearing what he had to say she stood up and asked Bates to sit down and give Snow the floor. Bates was gracious enough to oblige and Snow proceeded to argue his case and present October 22, 1844, as a viable date for the second coming. The entire congregation was electrified. A few days later Snow published a summary of his arguments in a four-page paper titled “The True Midnight Cry”.

Bates, who had come to the camp meeting under the conviction that he would receive new light at these meetings regarding their disappointment in the spring of 1843, was quick to embrace Snow’s position. Many of the Advent believers quickly grabbed hold of the date with enthusiasm but the principle Millerite leaders and papers still wouldn’t yield an inch regarding their opposition of fixing a specific date. Despite this, however, the Advent Herald reported that Snow’s message swept over the land with the velocity of a tornado.

By the first week of October, Miller, Himes and other began to fold and accepted the date but Litch held back the longest. It wasn’t until October 16th that he accepted the October 22nd date. Two days earlier his friend Charles Fitch had died as a result of a severe fever he had contracted by exposure to cold wind while baptising a significant flock of people. Fitch’s widow and children clung to the October 22nd date with fervent hope.

When October 22nd 1844 came and went the intensity of the movement was matched by the intensity of the disappointment that the Millerites had to stomach. The movement came to an abrupt screeching halt and the whiplash was painful and cutting. How would the Advent believers manage to pick up the pieces and move on in the aftermath of such a great disappointment?

Citations and Further Reading

  • Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
  • Knight, G.R. (1999) – A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (3rd Edition)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)