William Miller Biography CHAPTER III.


ALL truly great and good men who have been the honored instruments in the hands of God of accomplishing good, and of leading his people in the way of truth, have had wrought in them a deep experience in the things of the Spirit of God. This being the case with William Miller, we are happy to give in this chapter some of the important facts in his experience. His biographer says:--

"From the time that Mr. Miller became established in his religious faith, till he commenced his public labors--a period of twelve or fourteen years--there were few prominent incidents in his life to distinguish him from other men. He was a good citizen, a kind neighbor, an affectionate husband and parent, and a devoted Christian; good to the poor, and benevolent, as objects of charity were presented; in the Sunday-school, was teacher and superintendent; in the church he performed important service as a reader and exhorter, and, in the support of religious worship, no other member, perhaps, did as much as he.

"He was very exemplary in his life and conversation, endeavored at all times to perform the duties, whether public or private, which devolved on him, and whatever he did was done cheerfully, as for the glory of God. His leisure hours were devoted to reading and meditation; he kept himself well informed respecting the current events of the time; occasionally communicated his thoughts through the press, and often, for his own private amusement, or for the entertainment of friends, indulged in various poetical effusions, which, for unstudied productions, are possessed of some merit; but his principal enjoyment was derived from the study of the Bible. His state of mind at this time can be better given in his own language.

"'With the solemn conviction,' writes Mr. Miller, 'that such momentous events were predicted in the Scriptures, to be fulfilled in so short a space of time, the question came home to me with mighty power regarding my duty to the world, in view of the evidence that had affected my own mind. If the end was so near, it was important that the world should know it. I supposed that it would call forth the opposition of the ungodly; but it never came into my mind that any Christian would oppose it. I supposed that all such would be so rejoiced, in view of the glorious prospect, that it would only be necessary to present it, for them to receive it. My great fear was that in their joy at the hope of a glorious inheritance so soon to be revealed, they would receive the doctrine without sufficiently examining the Scriptures in demonstration of its truth. I therefore feared to present it, lest, by some possibility, I should be in error, and be the means of misleading any.

"'Various difficulties and objections would arise in my mind from time to time; certain texts would occur to me which seemed to weigh against my conclusions; and I would not present a view to others, while any difficulty appeared to militate against it. I therefore continued the study of the Bible, to see if I could sustain any of these objections. My object was not merely to remove them, but I wished to see if they were valid.

"'Sometimes, when at work, a text would arise like this: "Of that day and hour knoweth no man," &c.; and how, then, could the Bible reveal the time of the advent? I would then immediately examine the context in which it was found, and I saw at once that, in the same connection, we are informed how we may know when it is nigh, even at the doors; consequently, that text could not teach that we could know nothing of the time of that event. Other texts, which are advanced in support of the doctrine of a temporal millennium, would arise; but on examining their context, I invariably found that they were applicable only to the eternal state, or were so illustrative of the spread of the gospel here as to be entirely irrelevant to the position they were adduced to support.

"'Thus all those passages that speak of the will of God being done on earth as in Heaven, of the earth being full of the knowledge of the glory of God, &c., could not be applicable to a time when the man of sin was prevailing against the saints, or when the righteous and wicked were dwelling together, which is to be the case until the end of the world. Those who speak of the gospel being preached in all the world, teach that, as soon as it should be thus preached, the end was to come; so that it could not be delayed a thousand years from that time, nor long enough for the world's conversion after the preaching of the gospel as a witness.

"'The question of the resurrection and judgment was, for a time, an obstacle in the way. Being instructed that all the dead would be raised at the same time, I supposed it must be so taught in the Bible; but I soon saw it was one of the traditions of the elders.

"'So, also, with the return of the Jews. That question I saw could only be sustained by denying the positive declarations of the New Testament, which assert: "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek;" that the promise that he shall be the heir of the world was not to Abraham and his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith; that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female;" but that "if ye are Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." I was, therefore, obliged to discard an objection which asserts there is a difference between the Jew and Greek; that the children of the flesh are accounted for the seed, &c.

"'In this way I was occupied for five years--from 1818 to 1823--in weighing the various objections which were being presented to my mind. During that time, more objections arose in my mind than have been advanced by my opponents since; and I know of no objection that has been since advanced which did not then occur to me. But, however strong they at first appeared, after examining them in the light of the divine word, I could only compare them to straws, laid down singly as obstacles on a well-beaten road; the car of truth rolled over them, unimpeded in its progress.

"'I was then fully settled in the conclusions which seven years previously had begun to bear with such impressive force upon my mind; and the duty of presenting the evidence of the nearness of the advent to others--which I had managed to evade while I could find the shadow of an objection remaining against its truth--again came home to me with great force. I had, previously, only thrown out occasional hints of my views. I then began to speak more clearly my opinions to my neighbors, to ministers, and others. To my astonishment, I found very few who listened with any interest. Occasionally, one would see the force of the evidence; but the great majority passed it by as an idle tale. I was, therefore, disappointed in finding any who would declare this doctrine, as I felt it should be, for the comfort of saints, and as a warning to sinners.'

"His correspondence during this period shows ardent longings for the salvation of his relatives and friends. In a letter to a sister, dated June 25, 1825, after writing on various subjects of family interest, he says:--

"'DEAR BROTHER AND SISTER:--AIl the news that we had to tell having been told above, I will now add a few lines; and oh! may they be directed by Infinite Wisdom? What are your prospects for eternity? Is there a land of eternal rest, beyond the confines of this world, in prospect? Do you believe that the blood of the everlasting covenant can and will cleanse you from all sin? Are you satisfied with your present evidence of an interest in that blood? That we shall die, is certain; and due preparation for a better world is wisdom; and we ought as rational beings to make ourselves familiar with the road and acquainted with the inhabitants of said country. O my soul! go thou to the mansions of the dead, and learn there the end of all living.

"'That we ought to be cleansed from all sin, in order to be happy, is certain; for sin constitutes all misery; and a person living in the enjoyment (falsely so called) of sin cannot enter into rest. How necessary, then, is the work of regeneration and sanctification! And may we obtain that evidence which will enable us, with Thomas, to say, "My Lord and my God!" Redemption is the work of God. How proper, then, that Jesus should be called the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel! Redemption is from sin. How improper, then, that we should live any longer therein! We ought as much to strive to attain to perfection as if it was attainable here below.

"Lord, I believe thy heavenly word;
Fain would I have my soul renewed.
I mourn for sin, and trust the Lord
To have it pardoned and subdued.

"My King, my Saviour, and my God,
Let grace my sinful soul renew;
Wash my offenses with thy blood,
And make my heart sincere and true.

"Oh! may thy grace its power display!
Let guilt and death no longer reign;
Save me in thine appointed way,
Nor let my humble faith be vain.

"Ye favored lands, who have his word,
Ye saints, who feel its saving power,
Unite your tongues to praise the Lord,
And his distinguished grace adore."

"'P. S. June 30.--I have this day been to Whitehall, to see the celebrated Marquis de Lafayette, that made such a conspicuous figure, half a century ago, in our Revolution. He is a pleasant-looking old man, a friend to freemen, a terror to tyrants, and one that has spent his treasures, his blood, and the best part of his life, in the cause of freedom and the rights of man. He has suffered much; yet he retains a good constitution. He goes a little lame, occasioned by wounds he received in the Revolution. He deserves the thanks of Americans, and he has received a general burst of gratitude from Maine to the Mississippi. He has visited every State in the Union and almost every important town. I had the pleasure of dining with him; and after dinner he took a passage for New York.

"'Yours, &c.,     WM. MILLER.'

"That Mr. M. was one of the men prominent in his section of the country, is shown by his mingling with them, as above, on the various public occasions.

"He derived such pleasure from the study of the Bible that it was almost his constant companion; and a portion of each day was devoted to its private perusal. He loved to meditate on its teachings and to talk about its promises.

"In the winter of 1828, the church in Low Hampton, of which Mr. Miller was a member, was refreshed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In a letter, dated March 12, written to Elder Hendryx, to whom reference has before been made, Mr. Miller says: 'One young man came to my house last night after nine o'clock, to request prayers. He said he had been eight years under conviction, and appeared to be almost in despair. I thought I could say to him, as did John the Baptist to his disciples: "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" Twelve or fourteen requested prayers last Sunday evening. It is really the work of the Lord. I never lived in a reformation so general, so solemn, and with so little noise. Surely, we have reason to rejoice and be glad. The Lord has remembered the low state of his people, and hath come down to deliver. Two of my children, William and Bellona, as I have a good degree of hope, are subjects of grace. Pray for us.'

"In the same letter he makes mention of trials, as well as blessings. He says: 'On Saturday, the first day of March, our meeting-house was consumed by fire. We should have almost despaired of ever building again, had not the Lord visited us by his grace, and likewise opened the hearts of our Christian friends from abroad. $400 have been subscribed from the adjoining towns. There is now some prospect that we shall build. You know we are weak in numbers. We are really so in resources. I must bend my whole force to gain the above-mentioned object.'

"Mr. Miller succeeded in the accomplishment of his wishes, according to his ability and known liberality.

"He continued to make the Bible his daily study, and became more and more convinced that he had a personal duty to perform respecting what he conceived the Bible to teach of the nearness of the advent. These impressions he thus describes:--

"'When I was about my business, it was continually ringing in my ears, Go and tell the world of their danger. This text was constantly occurring to me: "When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." Eze. 33:8, 9. I felt that, if the wicked could be effectually warned, multitudes of them would repent; and that, if they were not warned, their blood might be required at my hand.

"'I did all I could to avoid the conviction that anything was required of me; and I thought that by freely speaking of it to all, I should perform my duty, and that God would raise up the necessary instrumentality for the accomplishment of the work. I prayed that some minister might see the truth, and devote himself to its promulgation; but still it was impressed upon me, Go and tell it to the world; their blood will I require at thy hand. The more I presented it in conversation, the more dissatisfied I felt with myself for withholding it from the public. I tried to excuse myself to the Lord for not going out and proclaiming it to the world. I told the Lord that I was not used to public speaking; that I had not the necessary qualifications to gain the attention of an audience; that I was very diffident, and feared to go before the world; that they would "not believe me nor hearken to my voice;" that I was "slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." But I could get no relief.'"

"In this way he struggled on for nine years longer, pursuing the study of the Bible, doing all he could to present the nearness of Christ's coming to those whom circumstances threw in his way; but resisting his impressions of duty to go out as a public teacher. He was then fifty years old, and it seemed impossible for him to surmount the obstacles which lay in his path, to successfully present it in a public manner.

"His freedom to converse on the subject, and the ability with which he was able to defend his own views, and oppose those differing from him, had given him no little celebrity in his denomination in all that region; and some were rather shy in approaching him. Elder T. Hendryx, a Baptist clergyman, now in the State of Pennsylvania, who has kindly furnished the biographer with many original letters from Mr. Miller, thus speaks of his first acquaintance with him:--

"'My first acquaintance with Bro. Miller was in the summer of 1831. I had been requested to visit the Baptist church in Hampton, and concluded to go. When about to start, I was informed by a brother in the church of which I was a member, in Salem, N. Y., that there was a brother in the Hampton church, possessing considerable influence, who had many curious notions on doctrinal points, and on the prophecies--particularly on the latter; and also (to use the brother's language) that he was "hard on ministers who differed with him." Having recently commenced preaching, without much confidence in my own ability, and not having made any engagement to the church, I at first almost concluded not to go. On further reflection, I decided to go, and put my trust in Him who had said, "Lo, I am with you alway." On my way I endeavored, by prayer and meditation, to divest myself of all prejudice against his peculiar notions, whatever they might be (for as yet I was ignorant of them), and at the same time to fortify myself against being led into error by him.

I arrived at Bro. Miller's on the 6th of July, 1831. You may well suppose that my situation was not very enviable. I moved tremblingly and with the utmost caution. In spite of me, I could not act like myself; and it was not till I had been there nearly a week, and preached several discourses, that I could feel at home, or enjoy my wonted freedom in preaching the word. Several other ministering brethren visited at Bro. M.'s during my stay there, and I found that I was not altogether alone in those feelings. But how perfectly groundless those fears! Instead of pouncing upon my errors like the tiger, no brother ever dealt with me more tenderly, or exhibited a better spirit in presenting his views.

"'After being with Bro. M. some time, he asked me my views on the millennium. Having thrown off all reserve, I readily gave them. I had embraced the old view--the world's conversion a thousand years before the advent; and answered him accordingly. His reply was: "Well, Bro. H., prove it! You know I want the Bible for all that I receive." "Well," said I; and, taking my Bible, I turned to the 20th of Revelation, and was about to read, when I thought I would examine it again, and with very close attention. I was in a deep study. Bro. M. was waiting, and watching me closely. He began to smile. "Why don't you read, Bro. H.?" said he. I was astonished; for I could not make it out. At last I said: "I go home next Monday. I will draw the passages off, and hand them to you when I return." I took some four days for it, and gave him a long list of passages. He read them, and said: "Bro. H., what has become of your old theory? This is mine." "Well," said I, "it is mine, too." In my examination, my theory had been overturned, and I came out where I now stand.

"'One thing I observed in Bro. M.'s character; If he ever dealt harshly with a brother for holding an error, it was because he saw, or thought he saw, a spirit of self-importance in him.'

"The labors of Elder Hendryx were attended with a blessing, as appears from a letter of Mr. Miller's to him, dated August 9, 1831. In it he says:--

"'The Lord is pouring out his Spirit among us, but not in so powerful a manner as I could wish. Baptism has been administered every Sabbath but one since you were here. Two or three have obtained hope every week."

"As Mr. Miller's opinions respecting the nearness and nature of the millennium became known, they naturally elicited a good deal of comment among his friends and neighbors, and also among those at a distance. Some of their remarks, not the most complimentary to his sanity, would occasionally be repeated to him.

"Having heard that a physician in his neighborhood had said 'Esquire Miller,' as he was familiarly called, 'was a fine man and a good neighbor, but was a monomaniac on the subject of the advent,' Mr. M. was humorously inclined to let him prescribe for his case.

"One of his children being sick one day, he sent for the doctor, who, after prescribing for the child, noticed that Mr. Miller was very mute in one corner, and asked what ailed him.

"'Well, I hardly know, doctor. I want you to see what does, and prescribe for me.'

"The doctor felt of his pulse, &c., and could not decide respecting his malady; and inquired what he supposed was his complaint.

"'Well,' said Mr. Miller, 'I don't know but I am a monomaniac; and I want you to examine me, and see if I am; and if so, cure me. Can you tell when a man is a monomaniac?'

"The doctor blushed, and said he thought he could.

"Mr. Miller wished to know how.

"'Why,' said the doctor, 'a monomaniac is rational on all subjects but one; and when you touch that particular subject, he will become raving.'

"'Well,' said Mr. Miller, 'I insist upon it that you see whether I am in reality a monomaniac; and if I am, you shall prescribe for and cure me. You shall, therefore, sit down with me two hours, while I present the subject of the advent to you, and, if I am a monomaniac, by that time you will discover it.'

"The doctor was somewhat disconcerted; but Mr. Miller insisted, and told him, as it was to present the state of his mind, he might charge for his time as in regular practice.

"The doctor finally consented; and, at Mr. Miller's request, opened the Bible and read from the 8th of Daniel. As he read along, Mr. Miller inquired what the ram denoted, with the other symbols presented. The doctor had read Newton, and applied them to Persia, Greece, and Rome, as Mr. Miller did.

"Mr. Miller then inquired how long the vision of those empires was to be.

"'2300 days.'

"'What!' said Mr. Miller, 'could those great empires cover only 2300 literal days?'

"'Why,' said the doctor, 'those days are years. according to all commentators; and those kingdoms are to continue 2300 years.'

"Mr. M. then asked him to turn to the 2d of Daniel, and to the 7th; all of which he explained the same as Mr. Miller. He was then asked if he knew when the 2300 days would end. He did not know, as he could not tell when they commenced.

"Mr. Miller told him to read the 9th of Daniel. He read down till he came to the 21st verse, when Daniel saw 'the man Gabriel,' whom he had 'seen in the vision.'

"'In what vision?' Mr. Miller inquired.

"'Why,' said the doctor, 'in the vision of the 8th of Daniel."

"'Wherefore, understand the matter and consider the vision.' He had now come, then, to make him understand that vision, had he?"

"'Yes,' said the doctor.

"'Well, seventy weeks are determined; what are these seventy weeks a part of?'

"'Of the 2300 days.'

"'Then do they begin with the 2300 days?

"'Yes,' said the doctor.

"'When did they end?'

"'In A. D. 33.'

"'Then how far would the 2300 extend after 33?"

"The doctor subtracted 490 from 2300, and replied, 1810. 'Why,' said he, 'that is past.'

"'But,' said Mr. Miller, 'there were 1810 from 33; in what year would that come?'

"The doctor saw at once that the 33 should be added, and set down 33 and 1810, and, adding them, replied, 1843.

"At this unexpected result the doctor settled back in his chair and colored; but immediately took his hat and left the house in a rage.

"The next day he again called on Mr. Miller, and looked as though he had been in the greatest mental agony.

"'Why, Mr. Miller,' said he, "I am going to hell. I have not slept a wink since I was here yesterday. I have looked at the question in every light, and the vision must terminate about A. D. 1843; and I am unprepared, and must go to hell.'

"Mr. Miller calmed him, and pointed him to the ark of safety; and in about a week, calling each day on Mr. M., he found peace to his soul, and went on his way rejoicing, as great a monomaniac as Mr. Miller. He afterward acknowledged that, till he made the figures 1843, he had no idea of the result to which he was coming.

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