On This Day: William Miller's Birth - February 15, 1782
On this day, February 15 of 1782, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, William Miller was born. Miller launched the “advent near” movement and stirred up all of the America with the message of Christ’s imminent second coming. He grew up in a religious home as his maternal grandfather, Elnathan Phelps, was a minister. Coming from a poor family that saved every dollar towards their mortgage, Miller showed a great desire to acquire knowledge, even though it was very difficult for him to purchase any books. After his family members would fall asleep, he would go by the fireside and read. At the age of 15, young William began keeping a personal dairy. Although Miller grew up in a Baptist home, he, through reading books and the influence of his friends, adopted deistic views, which state that God is the Creator of this world but, after its creation, He left it to continue its course without being involved in its affairs. In 1809, Miller became a deputy sherif, was promoted to lieutenant a year later, then was made captain of militia in 1812. Finally, in 1814, he became a captain in the US army. (1)
The War of 1812 lead Miller to ask more questions about God and how Providence works in people’s lives. He started attending church on a regular basis and was asked to read the sermon on one occasion. While reading the sermon, Miller became very emotional and was not able to finish his sermon. Soon after that, he described his experience in this way:
"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. 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 marvelled 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.” (2)
He renounced his deistic views and became an avid student of the Bible. In his own words:
"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. 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.” (3)
Through the Study of the Scripture, especially the book of Daniel, Miller came to the conclusion that the end was near and that Jesus would be returning soon. From Daniel 8:14 and other Scriptural texts, Miller calculated that Jesus’ second coming, according to the Biblical prophecies, will take place somewhere in the year of 1843. At first, he only shared his views on the soon coming of Jesus with his friends, but then he was convinced that he had to preach the message to everyone. Although hesitant at first, since he was a simple farmer, with much prayer and God’s leading, he started to preach the message of Christ’s imminent return in 1831. In the next 13 years, William Miller preached over 3,200 times and people were stirred up by his advent messages. It is estimated that up to 100,000 people became “Adventists” - believers of the Advent movement, or “Millerites” - his followers. (4)
Ellen G. White, born Harmon, heard William Miller preaching about Jesus’ imminent return at the age of 16. She accepted the Advent message and went through the Great Disappointment in 1844 when Christ did not return as expected. She wrote about William Miller in 5 chapters in her book “The Great Controversy.” (5) After the Great Disappointment of 1844, Miller wrote:
"Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged... I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light,--and that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see Him for whom my soul yearns." (6)
After the turn of events in 1844, William Miller did not accept the advancing understanding of what exactly had happened: the sanctuary that was cleansed was not the earth by fire as he believed, but the heavenly sanctuary. Even though he correctly calculated the timing of the prophetic events, he misunderstood the event that was foretold to take place at the end of the 2300 years from Daniel 8 and 9. In 1848, he went blind and in December 1849, he passed away with still looking forward for the soon coming of Christ. (7) In regard of this, Ellen G. White wrote:
"I saw that William Miller erred as he was soon to enter the heavenly Canaan, in suffering his influence to go against the truth. Others led him to this; others must account for it. But angels watch the precious dust of this servant of God, and he will come forth at the sound of the last trump.” (8)
Reading about the life of William Miller, I see an earnest, devoted man who, after returning to God, had a great willingness to know and follow what he understood to be truth. Discovering the beautiful hope of a soon-returning Saviour, he recognized the importance of being ready and telling others to prepare for this event. His life of sacrifice and obedience to the Word of God is an example for us to follow. With boldness and zeal, he unwaveringly stood before people to proclaim his message. Although the Scriptures teach that we cannot know the day of Christ’s return, may we faithfully spread the Advent message with the same zeal as William Miller and prepare our souls to meet our Saviour.
(1) F. D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, p. 17-24.
(2) Sylvester Bliss, Joshua V. Himes, Memoirs of William Miller, (1853), p. 66-67.
(3) Memoirs of William Miller, p. 69-70.
(4) Denis Fortin, Jerry Moon, The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, 2 edition (Review and Herald: Hagerstown, Maryland, 2013), 469-470.
(5) The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, p. 470.
(6) The Midnight Cry, Dec. 5, 1844, p. 179-180.
(7) The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, p. 470.
(8) Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 258.