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Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller

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    “ON the retirement of Mr. Miller from the army, he removed his family from Poultney, Vt., to Low Hampton, N.Y., to begin there the occupation of farming. His father had died there, in the year 1812, leaving the homestead encumbered with a mortgage. That was cancelled by Mr. Miller, who permitted his mother to live there with his brother Solomon, while he purchased for himself another farm, in the neighborhood, about half a mile to the west. This lay mostly above the general level of the valley of the Poultney river, and comprised about two hundred acres of land, with a surface somewhat uneven, and with soil similar to that usually found in sections geologically marked by black slate and limestone. Two miles to the east was the village of Fairhaven, Vt., near the Poultney river; and eight miles to the west, on the southern extremity of Lake Champlain, at the foot of bold, precipitous hills, was the village of Whitehall, N.Y.SLWM 39.1

    “On this spot, in 1815, Mr. Miller erected a convenient farm-house, similar to those built throughout the interior of New England at that epoch. It was of wood, two stories high, with an ell projecting in the rear. The front and ends were painted white, with green blinds, and the back side was red. It fronts to the north. A small yard, inclosed by a picket fence, and ornamented by lilacs, raspberry and rose-bushes, separates it from the public road leading to Fairhaven, which is one of the interesting objects in the foreground of the extended view to the east, as seen from the window of the ‘east room’ so full of tender and holy recollections to all visitors.SLWM 39.2

    “To the west of the house, a few rods distant, is a beautiful grove, where, in later times, he often prayed and wept. This spot was selected by the political party to which Mr. Miller belonged, for the place of a public celebration of the national independence, on its anniversary, July 4, 1816. Mr. Miller was selected as the marshal of the day; but, not fancying a party celebration, he used his influence so that all persons, irrespective of party, were invited to partake of its festivities. In those days of party excitement this was considered a wonderful stretch of charity.SLWM 40.1

    “Mr. Miller’s grandfather Phelps was in the practice of preaching at the house of Mr. M.’s father, when he made his occasional visits. There was no church at the time in that section of the town. Through his labors Mr. Miller’s mother was converted; and a little church was there organized, as a branch of the Baptist church in Orwell, Vt.SLWM 40.2

    “In 1812, Elisha Miller, an uncle of the subject of this memoir, was settled over the church in Low Hampton, and a small meeting-house was afterward erected. On Mr. Miller’s removal to Low Hampton, he became a constant attendant, except in the absence of the preacher, at that place of worship, and contributed liberally to its support. His relation to the pastor, and the proximity of his house, caused it to become the head-quarters of the denomination on extra as well as on ordinary occasions. There the preachers from a distance found food and shelter; and, though fond of bantering them on their faith, and making their opinions a subject of mirth with his infidel friends, they always found a home beneath his roof.SLWM 40.3

    “In the absence of the pastor, public worship was conducted by the deacons, who, as a substitute for the sermon, read a printed discourse, usually from ‘Proud-foot’s Practical Sermons.’ Mr. Miller’s mother noticed that, on such occasions he was not in his seat, and she remonstrated with him. He excused his absence on the ground that he was not edified by the manner in which the deacons read; and intimated that if he could do the reading, he should always be present. This being suggested to those grave officials, they were pleased with the idea; and, after that, they selected the sermon as before, but Mr. Miller did the reading, although still entertaining deistical sentiments.SLWM 41.1

    “The time had now come when God, by his providence and grace, was about to interpose to enlist the patriotic soldier in another kind of warfare; when, to his mind, so fond of those departments of truth which appealed only to reason and sense, was to be opened a more inspiring field; when the persevering and delighted student of history was to see and appreciate the connection between the most stirring scenes and mightiest revolutions in this world’s affairs and God’s great plan of redemption, to which all the events of time are made subordinate.SLWM 41.2

    “Detecting himself in an irreverent use of the name of God, as before related, he was convicted of its sinfulness, and retired to his beautiful grove, and there, in meditation on the works of nature and Providence, he endeavored to penetrate the mystery of the connection between the present and a future state of existence.SLWM 41.3

    “As a farmer, he had had more leisure for reading; and he was at an age when the future of man’s existence will demand a portion of his thoughts. He found that his former views gave him no assurance of happiness beyond the present life. Beyond the grave, all was dark and gloomy. To use his own words: “Annihilation was a cold and chilling thought, and accountability was sure destruction to all. The heavens were as brass over my head, and the earth as iron under my feet. Eternity! - what was it? And death - why was it? the more I reasoned, the further I was from demonstration. The more I thought, the more scattered were my conclusions. I tried to stop thinking, but my thoughts would not be controlled. I was truly wretched, but did not understand the cause. I murmured and complained, but knew not of whom. I knew that there was a wrong, but knew not how or where to find the right. I mourned, but without hope.” He continued in this state of mind for some months, feeling that eternal consequences might hang on the nature and object of his belief.SLWM 42.1

    “The anniversary of the battle of Plattsburg - September 11 - was celebrated in all that region, for some years, with much enthusiasm. In 1816, arrangements had been made for its observance, by a ball, at Fairhaven. The stirring scenes of the late campaign being thus recalled, Captain Miller entered into the preparations for the expected festivities with all the ardor of the soldier. In the midst of these, it was announced that Dr. B. would preach on the evening previous to the ball. In the general gathering to that meeting, Captain Miller and his help attended, more from curiosity than from other actuating cause.SLWM 42.2

    “They left Captain Miller’s house in high glee. The discourse was from Zechariah 2:4: ‘Run! speak to this young man!’ It was a word in season. On their return, Mrs. M., who had remained at home, observed a wonderful change in their deportment. Their glee was gone, and all were deeply thoughtful, and not disposed to converse in reply to her questions respecting the meeting, the ball, etc. They were entirely incapacitated for any part in the festive arrangements. Other managers of the ball were equally unfitted for it; and the result was that it was indefinitely postponed. The seriousness extended from family to family, and in the several neighborhoods in that vicinity meetings for prayer and praise took the place of mirth and the dance.SLWM 43.1

    “On the Lord’s day following, it devolved on Captain Miller, as usual in the minister’s absence, to read a discourse of the deacons’ selection. They had chosen one on the Importance of Parental Duties. Soon after commencing, he was overpowered by the inward struggle of emotion, with which the entire congregation deeply sympathized, and took his seat. His deistical principles seemed an almost insurmountable difficulty with him. Soon after, ‘suddenly,’ he says, ‘the character of a Saviour was vividly impressed upon my mind. It seemed that there might be a Being so good and compassionate as to himself atone for our transgressions, and thereby save us from suffering the penalty of sin. I immediately felt how lovely such a Being must be; and imagined that I could cast myself into the arms of, and trust in the mercy of, such an One. But the question arose, How can it be proved that such a Being does exist? Aside from the Bible, I found that I could get no evidence of the existence of such a Saviour, or even of a future state. I felt that to believe in such a Saviour without evidence would be visionary in the extreme.SLWM 43.2

    “‘I saw that the Bible did bring to view just such a Saviour as I needed; and I was perplexed to find how an uninspired book should develop principles so perfectly adapted to the wants of a fallen world. I was constrained to admit that the Scriptures must be a revelation from God. They became my delight; and in Jesus I found a friend. The Saviour became to me the chiefest among ten thousand; and the Scriptures, which before were dark and contradictory, now became the lamp to my feet and light to my path. My mind became settled and satisfied. I found the Lord God to be a Rock in the midst of the ocean of life. The Bible now became my chief study, and I can truly say, I searched it with great delight. I found the half was never told me. I wondered why I had not seen its beauty and glory before, and marveled that I could have ever rejected it. I found everything revealed that my heart could desire, and a remedy for every disease of the soul. I lost all taste for other reading, and applied my heart to get wisdom from God.’SLWM 44.1

    “Mr. Miller immediately erected the family altar; publicly professed his faith in that religion which had been food for his mirth, by connecting himself with the little church that he had despised; opened his house for meetings of prayer; and became an ornament and pillar in the church, and an aid to both pastor and people. The die was cast, and he had taken his stand for life as a soldier of the cross, as all who knew him felt assured; and henceforth the badge of discipleship, in the church or world, in his family or closet, indicated whose he was and whom he served.SLWM 44.2

    “His pious relations had witnessed with pain his former irreligious opinions; how great were their rejoicings now! The church, favored with his liberality, and edified by his reading, but pained by his attacks on their faith, could now rejoice with the rejoicing. His infidel friends regarded his departure from them as the loss of a standard-bearer. And the new convert felt that henceforth, wherever he was, he must deport himself as a Christian, and perform his whole duty. His subsequent history must show how well this was done.SLWM 45.1

    “To the church, his devotion of himself to his Master’s service was as welcome as his labors were efficient. The opposite party, especially the more gifted of them, regarded him as a powerful, and, therefore, a desirable, antagonist. He knew the strength of both parties. That of the former he had often tested, when, in his attacks, though they might have been silenced, he had felt that he had a bad cause; and the weakness of the latter had been forcibly impressed on him in his fruitless efforts to assure himself that they were right. He knew all their weak points, and where their weapons could be turned against them. They were not disposed to yield the ground without a struggle, and began their attack on him by using the weapons and assailing the points which characterized his own former attacks on Christianity; and to this fact, under God, is probably owing his subsequent world-wide notoriety.SLWM 45.2

    “He had taunted his friends with entertaining ‘a blind faith’ in the Bible, containing, as it did, many things which they confessed their inability to explain. He had enjoyed putting perplexing questions to clergymen and others - triumphing in their unsatisfactory replies. These questions had not been forgotten; and his Christian friends, also, turned his former taunts upon himself.SLWM 46.1

    “Soon after his renunciation of deism, in conversing with a friend respecting the hope of a glorious eternity through the merits and intercessions of Christ, he was asked how he knew there was such a Saviour. He replied, ‘It is revealed in the Bible.’ ‘How do you know the Bible is true?’ was the response, with a reiteration of his former arguments on the contradictions and mysticisms in which he had claimed it was shrouded.SLWM 46.2

    “Mr. Miller felt such taunts in their full force. He was at first perplexed; but, on reflection, he considered that if the Bible is a revelation of God, it must be consistent with itself; all its parts must harmonize, must have been given for man’s instruction, and, consequently, must be adapted to his understanding. He, therefore, said, ‘Give me time, and I will harmonize all these apparent contradictions to my own satisfaction, or I will be a deist still.’SLWM 46.3

    “He then devoted himself to the prayerful reading of the word. He laid aside all commentaries, and used the marginal references and his concordance as his only helps. He saw that he must distinguish between the Bible and all the peculiar and partisan interpretations of it. The Bible was older than them all, must be above them all; and he placed it there. He saw that it must correct all interpretations; and in correcting them, its own pure light would shine without the mists which traditionary belief had involved it in. He resolved to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and to receive, with child-like simplicity, the natural and obvious meaning of Scripture.SLWM 46.4

    “He pursued the study of the Bible with the most intense interest - whole nights, as well as days, being devoted to that object. At times, delighted with truth which shone forth from the sacred volume, making clear to his understanding the great plan of God for the redemption of fallen man; and at times puzzled and almost distracted by seemingly inexplicable or contradictory passages, he persevered, until the application of his great principle of interpretation was triumphant. He became puzzled only to be delighted, and delighted only to persevere the more in penetrating its beauties and mysteries. His manner of studying the Bible is thus described by himself:-SLWM 47.1

    “‘I determined to lay aside all my prepossessions, to thoroughly compare scripture with scripture, and to pursue its study in a regular and methodical manner. I commenced with Genesis, and read verse by verse, proceeding no faster than the meaning of the several passages should be so unfolded as to leave me free from embarrassment respecting any mysticisms or contradictions. Whenever I found anything obscure, my practice was to compare it with all collateral passages; and, by the help of Cruden, I examined all the texts of Scripture in which were found any of the prominent words contained in any obscure portion. Then, by letting every word have its proper bearing on the subject of the text, if my view of it harmonized with every collateral passage in the Bible, it ceased to be a difficulty.SLWM 47.2

    “In this way I pursued the study of the Bible, in my first perusal of it, for about two years, and was fully satisfied that it is its own interpreter. I found that, by a comparison of Scripture with history, all the prophecies, as far as they had been fulfilled, had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similtudes, etc., of the Bible, were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other portions of the word; and, when thus explained, are to be literally understood in accordance with such explanation. I was thus satisfied that the Bible is a system of revealed truths, so clearly and simply given that the ‘wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.’ In thus continuing the study, he adopted the followingSLWM 48.1

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