The Miller Farm

William Miller (1782-1849) was an American farmer and Baptist preacher born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and reared in Low Hampton, in northern New York, almost on the Vermont line.  He was largely self-educated, with only eighteen months of formal school.  Upon his marriage to Lucy P. Smith in 1803, he moved to Poultney, Vermont.  Through friendship with several prominent citizens who were Deists, Miller abandoned his religious convictions and became an avowed skeptic.

In the War of 1812, Miller served as lieutenant and captain.  At the close of the war he moved his family to Low Hampton, where he hoped to live quietly as a farmer through his remaining years.  At various times he served his community as deputy sheriff and justice of the peace.  But Miller was not at peace with himself, for he was at heart a deeply religious man.  In 1816, he was converted.  Challenged by his skeptical friends, he set out to study the Bible.

Miller concluded that Scripture “is its own interpreter,” and that the words ought to be understood literally, that is in their ordinary historical and grammatical sense, except in those instances where the writer used figurative language.  In his study of the prophecies, he reached the conclusion that the writers pointed to his day as the last period of earth’s history.  Specifically, he put his first and greatest emphasis on the prophetic declaration, “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14), from which he reached his conclusion in 1818, at the close of two years’ study of the Bible, that “in about twenty-five years…all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.”

Finally in August, 1831, he agreed to preach this message for the first time.  The preaching of the soon coming of Christ seemed naturally and inevitably to lead men to seek to make ready for that solemn event.

In 1832, Miller published a series of eight articles in the Vermont Telegraph, a Baptist Weekly.  In 1833, he incorporated these articles into a pamphlet.  In that year he was given a license to preach by the Baptists, and by the close of 1834, he was devoting his whole time to preaching.

From October, 1835, to June, 1839, Miller’s manuscript record book lists 800 lectures that he had given.  He accomplished this single-handedly at his own expense, and with no theological training, wholly in response to direct invitations.  By the summer of 1844, the number of lectures he had given had grown to 3200.

In December, 1839, he was invited by Joshua V. Himes, of the Christian Connection, to speak at the Chardon Street Chapel in Boston.  Himes assured “Father Miller” that “doors should be opened in every city in the Union, and the warning should go to the ends of the earth.”  Himes, an abolitionist and a born promoter, immediately began publication of the Signs of the Times.  Thus was launched the extensive publication efforts of the Millerites.

From 1840 onward, Millerism was no longer the activity of one man primarily, but of a great and increasing group of Christians.  Miller kept closely in touch with the activities of the movement, even when he was absent from the lecture platform because of illness.

What type of man was Miller that he could persuade preachers of different denominations to accept his teaching? There must have been a certain force and appeal not only in the earnestness of the man but in the logical way in which he marshaled his arguments.  He lived in a day when it was not uncommon for preachers to make major appeal to the emotions, yet he did not appeal primarily to the emotions, but to the intellect through a reading of the Word.

Miller used the general phrase “about the year 1843″ to describe his belief as to the time of the advent until in January, 1843, he set forth the time as some time between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st 1844.”  He never set a date or day within this period.

After the passing of October 22, 1844– a date that Miller did not set, but accepted about two weeks earlier– he believed that perhaps a small error in the reckoning of chronology might still explain the Lord’s delay in coming (Condensed from SDA Encyclopedia, pp. 889-891).

  The Miller Chapel

Near the Miller home is the chapel he built in 1848, four years after the Disappointment and but one year before his death, when his Baptist church had cast him out.  The Advent Christian Church now owns it, though it is maintained jointly with the Seventh-day Adventists.  A little light on Adventist history should be here included.

After the Disappointment of October 22, 1844, when there was a scattering of believers and a confusion of beliefs, Joshua V. Himes, with Miller, Josiah Litch, Sylvester Bliss, and some other leaders, sought to hold all Adventist factions together; and for this purpose called a meeting at Albany, New York, on April 29, 1845.  This Albany Conference had a very considerable representation, but notable among the absentees were Joseph Marsh, editor of the Voice of Truth, in Rochester, New York; George Storrs, who had introduced to Adventists the doctrine of conditional immortality, or the sleep of the dead, and who had a paper of his own, The Bible Examiner, of New York City; and Enoch Jacobs, editor of The Day Star, of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Neither was Joseph Bates there, nor James White, but the latter was young and only locally influential then.  Bates had only this very month accepted the seventh-day Sabbath, and White was yet a year and a half away from that.  There were no attendees from those who became known as Seventh-day Adventists.

The Albany Conference was only partially successful in its purpose, though Himes, and Miller for the four years he yet lived, were generally acknowledged as the leaders of the Adventists.  Storrs’ party, however definitely separated, and there were many factions.  Both these parties eventually put up a common front against the “Seventh-day people,” as that faith grew.

Miller, in 1848, built the chapel on his farm for the local company of Adventists who all, if they kept his faith, believed in the natural immortality of the soul.  At this time there was no church organization among Adventists, for they held, as George Storrs put it, that organization was in itself Babylon.  Nine years after Miller’s death, however, his followers under Himes and Bliss organized the American Millennial Association, afterward known as Evangelical Adventists.

The Advent Christian Church had its origin among the followers of Jonathan Cummings, who in 1852 made great inroads in the Adventist ranks by setting the time for Christ to come in the fall of 1853 or the spring of 1854.  The doctrine of conditional immortality had by this time made much headway, and most of Cummings’ followers were of this persuasion.  They established their own paper, The World’s Crisis.  When Christ did not come at their set time, they were invited back into the Evangelical body, but, mainly on the question of the nature of the soul, refused, and in 1861 completed their country-wide organization as a church.  In time they came to be the chief and only significant first-day Adventist body.  Himes joined them in 1864, and left them in 1875.  The Evangelical Adventists dwindled, and in 1916 disappeared from the United States Census of Religious Bodies.

The Adventist company at Low Hampton, after Miller’s death, eventually adopted the doctrine of conditional immortality, and retained the observance of Sunday. Although owned by the Advent Christians since 1953, the chapel’s origins are rooted in the Evangelical Adventists.  William Miller belonged to no Adventist body now existing; yet, differing from all in some particulars, he is father of all (Adapted from A. W. Spalding, Footprints, pp. 25-27).

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