It is the 20th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1849.
In America, it was the time between the "era of good feelings" and the Civil War. The early 1820s were a time of remarkable peace and goodwill. The rancor created by the first party system was quelled by the Monroe administration, which emphasized national unity over party factions. During this era of good feelings, the Second Great Awakening was spreading ecstatic religiosity from camp to camp and region to region. The church's mood was triumphant; it seemed that God's kingdom was being ushered in by the Saints of God.
But within just a few decades, America would be torn apart at the seams of the Mason-Dixon Line. The second party system in American national politics would stoke partisan flames. Fanaticism in the church would lead to schism. The question of God's kingdom, its location, and how it would be manifest became dividing issues for scores of new denominations.
Today we will look at one of the men who stoked the controversy of Christ's kingdom and coming in the mid 19th century. And while we are in the season of Advent, today we remember a man who made the second Advent the cornerstone of his ersatz theology. On this, the 20th of December in 1849 that William Miller, of Millerite fame, died at 67. He died a broke, broken, and lonely man, a far fall from his perch as one of the most famous preachers in the first half of the 19th century.
Miller was born in 1789 in Massachusetts and raised in the Baptist faith of this parents. He was a farmer and deputy sheriff before he enlisted in the war of 1812. He "converted" to enlightenment deism sometime around then under the influence of Kant, Locke et al. But to the chagrin of his skeptical friends, Miller began to attend a Baptist church covertly and soon had a challenge for them. Miller told them that he would read through the entire Bible and harmonize any apparent contradictions. If he could, he said, he would become a Christian again. Years after this curious wager, he had not only come to trust the Bible but also had "discovered" something else: the time of Christ's second Advent.
In 1831, A few years after his "discovery," Miller began to teach that "the second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years, on or before 1843". He came to this conclusion employing the book of Daniel. In Daniel 8:14, the text reads: "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Miller read this as obviously a reference to the second advent of Christ. And the 2,300 days should be interpreted as years. And using a rabbinic calendar and the earth's dating by James Ussher, he concluded that Jesus would be coming again in 1843.
How did William Miller become the superstar that would attract hundreds of thousands to hear him speak? 2 simple answers: press and premillennialism. Miller used the techniques of the second great awakening, both with regards to style and promotion. Advance copies of his magazines would be sent to towns ahead of him to stoke excitement. And Miller was no "post-millennial" as that kind of optimistic eschatology was best suited to that earlier "era of good feelings." His "pre-millennial" eschatology saw the world as decaying and the return of Christ to be imminent.
His popularity reached a fever pitch until three failed predictions culminated in the "great disappointment of 1844." Those who remained after the failed predictions would offer interpretations of why Miller was right and a little wrong. But Miller was abandoned. Even his closest friends, James and Ellen White, would distance themselves from him as they took his general teachings on the Second Advent to form the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Miller would never live down the disappointment of his failed predictions. He died five years after "the Great Disappointment" on this, the 20th of December in 1849.
The Advent reading for today comes from David A. Redding, "Adult Advent Announcement."
Let Advent begin again
Not merely in commercials;
For that first Christmas was not
Simply for children,
But for the
Wise and the strong.
Crowded around that cradle,
With kings kneeling.
Speak to us
Who seek an adult seat this year.
Help us to realize,
As we fill stockings,
Christmas is mainly
For the old folks —
And tired eyes
Need relief and light
A little more.
It was grown-ups
Who were the first
Such a star.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by my favorite millennial, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember, the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.