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Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller

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    INTRODUCTION

    Before us is a plain volume, the title page of which reads, “Memoir of William Miller generally known as a Lecturer on the Prophecies and the Second Coming of Christ, by Sylvester Bliss, author of Analysis of Sacred Chronology, a brief Commentary on the Apocalypse,” etc.SLWM 5.1

    Mr. Bliss was for more than twenty years the local and able conductor of the Advent Herald, which sustained the leading doctrines promulgated by Mr. Miller, published at Boston, Mass. The publisher of this volume, Elder Joshua V. Himes, Mr. Miller’s intimate fellow-laborer and friend, in his preface says:-SLWM 5.2

    “The name of William Miller, of Low Hampton, N.Y., is too well known to require an extended introduction; but while well known, few men have been more diversely regarded than he. Those who have only heard his name associated with all that is hateful in fanaticism, have necessarily formed opinions respecting him anything but complimentary to his intelligence and sanity; but those who knew him better, esteemed him as a man of more than ordinary mental power, a cool, sagacious, and honest reasoner, a humble and devout Christian, a kind and affectionate friend, a man of great moral and social worth.”SLWM 5.3

    “However his public labors may be regarded by a majority of the community, it will be seen, by a perusal of his life, that these were by no means unproductive of great good. The revivals of religion which attended his labors are testified to by those who participated in them; and hundreds of souls will ever refer to him as a means, under God, of their awakening and conversion.”SLWM 5.4

    “As the public learn to discriminate between the actual position of Mr. Miller and that which prejudice has conceived that he occupied, his conservativeness, and his disapprobation of every fanatical practice will be admitted, and a much more just estimate will be had of him.”SLWM 6.1

    We hold that the great movement upon the second advent question, which commenced with the writings and public lectures of William Miller, has been, in its leading features, in fulfilment of prophecy. Consistent with this view, we also hold that in the providence of God Mr. Miller was raised up to do a specific work; therefore to us the history of the important events in his Christian life and public labors possess peculiar interest.SLWM 6.2

    It is true that Mr. Miller and his associates and numerous friends were disappointed in the definite time of the second coming of Christ. And as might be expected from the nature of the case, those who have not sufficient interest to investigate the subject, especially those who are opposed to the doctrine of the soon coming of the Redeemer, conclude that the second advent movement has been a fanatical mistake.SLWM 6.3

    But we take a more favorable view of this matter. We hold that Mr. Miller was correct in three of the four fundamental points of Adventism, while on the fourth he was mistaken. But even this one mistake, viewed in the light of Scripture and reason, does not in the least affect his general position.SLWM 6.4

    1. Mr. Miller was correct in his views of the pre-millennial second appearing of Christ. No doctrine is more plainly stated and more fully sustained by the sacred Scriptures than the personal appearing and reign of Jesus Christ. And whatever may be said of the view and labors of Mr. Miller, this fact will not be denied, that very many ministers of the different denominations changed their views upon the millennium, renouncing the popular view of the conversion of the world, and the spiritual coming and reign of Jesus Christ.SLWM 7.1

    2. Mr. Miller was correct in his application of the prophetic symbols of Daniel and John. In this he is sustained by Protestant expositors generally.SLWM 7.2

    3. He was also correct in his exposition and application of the prophetic periods. The dates fixed upon have stood the test of the most rigid criticism. And those Adventists who have changed to other dates have done so simply because of the passing by of the first periods of expectation.SLWM 7.3

    4. But Mr. Miller was mistaken in the event to occur at the close of the prophetic periods, hence his disappointment. In the case of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, which period was the main pillar in his calculations, his error was in supposing the earth to be the sanctuary of that prophecy, and that it was to be cleansed by the fires of the last day.SLWM 7.4

    The primary signification of the word sanctuary is “a sacred place.” Neither the earth, nor any portion of it, has been such a place since the fall of man, and the reign of Satan and of death began. The apostle’s commentary upon the typical system, in his epistle to the Hebrews, points to two sacred places as the sanctuary of Jehovah; first, the typical tabernacle of the Jews; and, second, the greater and more perfect tabernacle of which Christ is now minister in Heaven. 1For a full exposition of the subject of the sanctuary and the nature of its cleansing, see Thoughts on Daniel, by U. Smith, and The Sanctuary and Twenty-three Hundred Days, by J. N. Andrews.SLWM 7.5

    But other great men have made as grave mistakes relative to the event to occur at the close of the great periods of Daniel as Mr. Miller. These, however, are soon forgotten, while that of Mr. Miller is ever fresh in the public mind. The learned late Geo. Bush, Prof. of Hebrew and Oriental Literature in the New York City University, in a letter addressed to Mr. Miller, and published in the Advent Herald for March, 1844, made some very important admissions relative to his calculations of the prophetic times. Mr. Bush says:-SLWM 8.1

    “Neither is it to be objected, as I conceive, to yourself or your friends, that you have devoted much time and attention to the study of chronology of prophecy, and have labored much to determine the commencing and closing dates of its great periods. If these periods are actually given by the Holy Ghost in the prophetic books, it was doubtless with the design that they should be studied, and probably, in the end, fully understood; and no man is to be charged with presumptuous folly who reverently makes the attempt to do this. On this point, I have myself no charges to bring against you. Nay, I am even ready to go so far as to say that I do not conceive your errors on the subject of chronology to be at all of a serious nature, or, in fact, to be very wide of the truth. In taking a day as the prophetical term for a year, I believe you are sustained by the soundest exegesis, as well as fortified by the high names of Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, Kirby, Scott, Keith, and a host of others, who have long since come to substantially your conclusions on this head. They all agree that the leading periods mentioned by Daniel and John do actually expire about this age of the world, and it would be a strange logic that would convict you of heresy for holding in effect the same views which stand forth so prominent in the notices of these eminent divines. Your error, as I apprehend, lies in another direction than your chronology.”SLWM 8.2

    Here Prof. Bush speaks frankly and truthfully, and his words of candor and wisdom sustain the Adventists in that feature of their faith most objectionable to their opponents. But what was the event for which Mr. Bush looked to mark the termination of the 2300 days? Let the following extract from the same letter to Mr. Miller answer:-SLWM 9.1

    “You have entirely mistaken the nature of the events which are to occur when those periods have expired. This is the head and front of your expository offending. You have assumed that the close of the 2300 days of Daniel, for instance, is also the close of the period of human probation, that it is the epoch of the visible and personal second coming of Christ - of the resurrection of the righteous dead, and of the dissolution of the present mundane system. The great event before the world is not its physical conflagration, but its moral regeneration. Although there is doubtless a sense in which Christ may be said to come in connection with the passing away of the fourth empire and of the Ottoman power, and his kingdom to be illustriously established, yet that will be found to be a spiritual coming in the power of his gospel, in the ample outpouring of his Spirit, and the glorious administration of his providence.”SLWM 9.2

    Evidently, Mr. Bush looked for the conversion of the world as the event to make the termination of the 2300 days. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Bush were right on the time question, and both were mistaken in the event to occur at the close of the great periods. Mr. Miller held that the world would be regenerated by fire, and Mr. Bush, by the gospel, at the end of the 2300 days. The conversion-of-the-world theory of Mr. Bush has had the terrible test of the last thirty-two years of apostasy, spiritual darkness, and crime. This period has been noted by departures from the faith of the gospel, and apostasies from the Christian religion. Infidelity in various forms, especially in the name of spiritualism, has spread over the Christian world with fearful rapidity. While the dark record of crime has been blackening since Prof. Bush addressed his letter to Wm. Miller. If this be the commencement of the temporal millennium, may the Lord save us from the balance. Both these great men mistook the event to terminate the 2300 days. And why should Mr. Miller be condemned for his mistake, and Mr. Bush be excused for his unscriptural conclusion? In the name of reason and justice we plead that, while the Christian world excuses Prof. Bush for his mistake, professedly pious men and women will not too severely censure Mr. Miller for his.SLWM 10.1

    It if be objected that the second advent movement, as introduced in our country by Mr. Miller, could not have been in harmony with Providence, in fulfillment of prophecy, because those who engaged in it were disappointed, then we suggest that, if God’s people never have been disappointed on the very point of their expectation when prophecy was being fulfilled in their experience and history, then it may be that prophecy has not been fulfilled in the advent movement. But if one instance can be shown in Sacred History where prophecy was fulfilled by those who were entirely incorrect on the vital point of their confident expectation, then, after all, prophecy may have been fulfilled in the great second advent movement of 1840-4. This matter should be fully tested.SLWM 10.2

    The prophet of God had uttered these words about five hundred years before their fulfillment: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, they King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.” Zechariah 9:9. In fulfillment of this prophecy, while Christ was riding into Jerusalem in the very humble manner expressed by the prophet, the chosen twelve, and the shouting multitude, cried, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:9. The people, and even the disciples, did not as yet understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom; and they verily thought that Jesus would on that occasion claim his right to the throne of David, and then, and there be crowned king of Israel.SLWM 11.1

    And when Jesus was requested to rebuke his disciples, he replied, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Prophecy had gone forth, and must be fulfilled, if the Spirit of God from necessity should call hosannas from the very stones.SLWM 11.2

    But the people did not understand the nature of prophetic fulfillment of their time; and their disappointment was complete. In a few days they witnessed the dying agonies of the Son of God upon the cross, and as Christ died, their hopes in him died also. Nevertheless, prophecy was fulfilled in the ardent hopes and triumphant hosannas of those who were so soon overwhelmed with bitterest disappointment.SLWM 11.3

    In gathering material for this work, we have copied very largely from Mr. Bliss, especially from the correspondence and writings of Mr. Miller which are incorporated into his Memoir. And we have thought best to introduce matter from the pen of Mr. Miller, not found in his Memoir, as his writings, probably better represent the advent movement and cause then those of any other. And as the best means by which the people may learn the real sentiments, the candor, and the true piety of this humble servant of Jesus Christ, we would let his writings testify.SLWM 12.1

    The introduction into this small volume of so large an amount of matter from Mr. Miller makes it necessary to omit a large portion of his Memoir that is devoted to his earlier life, as we hasten to his deeply interesting Christian experience. But in necessarily omitting portions, we hope not to appear to do Mr. Miller and his biographer injustice, while we content ourself with little more than space for this introduction, and foot notes.SLWM 12.2

    In the preparation of this work, we have been greatly edified and refreshed in spirit, as we have necessarily read very much from the able, candid, and godly pen of Mr. Miller; and we heartily wish the same blessing upon the candid reader. JAMES WHITE. Battle Creek, January 1875.SLWM 12.3

    WILLIAM MILLER.

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