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Despite the urging of his supporters, Miller never personally set an exact date for the expected Second Advent. However, in response to their urgings he did narrow the time-period to sometime in the Jewish year 1843, stating: “ My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 .”  Dick, "The Millerite Movement, 1830-1845," 16.
March 21, 1844 passed without incident, and the majority of Millerites maintained their faith. On March 25, Miller wrote to Himes, “I am still looking for the Dear Savior …. The time, as I have calculated it, is now filled up; and I expect every moment to see the Savior descend from heaven. I have now nothing to look for but this glorious hope.”
Further discussion and study resulted in the brief adoption of a new date—April 18, 1844, one based on the Karaite Jewish calendar (as opposed to the Rabbinic calendar). Like the previous date, April 18 passed without Christ’s return. In the Advent Herald of April 24, Himes wrote that all the “expected and published time” had passed; and admitted that they had been “mistaken in the precise time of the termination of the prophetic period,” while Josiah Litch surmised that they were probably, “only in error relative to the event which marked its close.” Miller also responded publicly, addressing a letter “To Second Advent Believers,” and writing, “I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door.
More study led the Millerites to believe that they had entered the “tarrying time”—a time of waiting after which Christ would finally return. They utilized three main verses in their conclusions:
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, particularly verse 5: “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.”
Habakkuk 3:2-3: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
Hebrews 10:36-37: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, everything changed when Samuel S. Snow presented a message of earth-shattering proportions—what became known as the “seventh-month” message or the “true midnight cry.” In a complex discussion based on scriptural typology, Snow presented his conclusion (still based on the 2300 day prophecy in Daniel 8:14), that Christ would return on, “the tenth day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844.” Again using the calendar of the Karaite Jews, this date was determined to be October 22, 1844. This “seventh month message” “spread with a rapidity unparalleled in the Millerite experience” amongst the general population.
The sun rose on the morning of October 23 like any other day, and October 22, that day of great hope and promise was for the Millerites, the day of greatest disappointment. Henry Emmons later wrote, “ I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment .”
Not only did were the Millerites dealing with their own shattered expectations, they also faced considerable abuse and even violence from the general public. On November 18, 1844 Miller wrote to Himes about his experiences: “ Some are tauntingly enquiring, “Have you not gone up?” Even little children in the streets are shouting continually to passersby, “Have you a ticket to go up?” The public prints, of the most fashionable and popular kind…are caricaturing in the most shameful manner of the “white robes of the saints,” Rev. 6:11, the “going up,” and the great day of “burning.” Even the pulpits are desecrated by the repetition of scandalous and false reports concerning the “ascension” robes,” and priests are using their powers and pens to fill the catalogue of scoffing in the most scandalous periodicals of the day .”
Worse were the instances of violence—a Millerite church burned in Ithaca and two vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. Shots were fired at another Canadian group meeting in a private house.
Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium—the “Great Sabbath,” and that therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15 “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud, and must be prayed down. Probably the majority however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives. Some members rejoined their previous denominations. A substantial number joined the Shakers.
By mid-1845, doctrinal lines amongst the various Millerite groups began to solidify and the groups emphasized their differences; a process Knight accurately terms “sect building . ” During this time there were three main Millerite groups—in addition to those who had simply given up their beliefs. Knight, Millennial Fever , 232.
The first major division of the Millerite groups who had not completely given up their belief in Christ’s Second Advent; were those who focused on the “shut-door” belief. This belief was popularized by Joseph Turner and was based on that key Millerite passage: Matthew 25: 1-13—the parable of the ten virgins. Dick, "The Millerite Movement, 1830-1845," 25.
The shut door mentioned in verses 11-12 was interpreted as the close of probation. As Knight explains, “After the door was shut, there would be no additional salvation. The wise virgins (true believers) would be in the kingdom, while the foolish virgins and all others would be on the outside.” Knight, Millennial Fever , 236.
The belief became a major issue upon the publication in January of 1845, of an article by Apollos Hale and Joseph Turner in the Advent Mirror of January 1845. This article tied the shut-door concept to October 22, 1844, teaching that the work of general salvation was finished at that date—Christ came spiritually as the Bridegroom, the wise virgins had entered into the wedding feast, and the door was then shut on all others.
The widespread acceptance of the “shut-door” belief lost ground as doubts were raised about the significance of the October 22, 1844 date—if nothing happened on that date, then there could be no shut door. The opposition to these “shut-door” beliefs was led by Joshua V. Himes and make up the second post-1844 group.
This faction soon gained the upper hand, even converting Miller to their point of view. Once he had Miller onside, Himes was able to gather support for a conference of Adventist groups. Millerism’s “sect-building” was hastened by the events of what is known as the Albany Conference. On March 20, 1845, the Morning Watch published a call by Joshua V. Himes for a conference.
“ to strengthen one another in the faith of the Advent at the door,”
“ to consult on the best mode of unitedly carrying forth our work, in comforting and preparing the Advent congregations among us for the speedy coming of the Lord,” and
“ to unite our efforts, for the conversion and salvation of sinners.”
Joshua V. Himes, Morning Watch , March 20 1845, 96.
Notably, the stated purpose of the conference was not to debate controversial doctrines. In fact the invitation was extended only to those Adventists who “still adhere to the original faith.” Himes, Morning Watch , March 20 1845, 96. The Shut-door Adventists and others who had developed new doctrines were therefore explicitly excluded. The biggest drawcard was to be the presence of Miller. In fact Himes wrote to Miller on March 27, 1845, saying, “all depends upon your being there.” In Knight, Millennial Fever , 268.
The Albany Conference began on April 29, 1845 and was, “one of the most significant Adventist meetings in the history of post-October 1844 Adventism.” Knight, Millennial Fever , 270. The delegates to the Albany Conference– including prominent Millerite leaders such as Miller, Himes. Elon Galusha, Josiah Litch, and Sylvester Bliss; accomplished three main tasks:
The production of a ten-point statement of belief.
The development of a plan for evangelism that involved further organization, including the establishment of Sunday schools and Bible classes; and the ordination of selected believers as ministers.
The passing of a series of resolutions that rejected a number of beliefs and practices seen as extreme; including mixed foot-washing, compulsory salutation kissing, shaving one’s head, and acting childlike.
Knight, Millennial Fever , 265.
Albany Conference group Evangelical Adventists Advent Christian Church. The Advent Christian Church still operates today with a global membership of approximately forty thousand.
The third major post-disappointment Millerite group also claimed—like the Hale and Turner led group, that the October 22 date was correct. Rather than Christ returning invisibly however, they came to view the event that took place on October 22, 1844 as having been quite different. The theology of this third group appears to have had its beginnings as early as October 23, 1844—the day after the Great Disappointment. On that day, during a prayer session with a group of Advent believers, Hiram Edson became convicted that “light would be given” and their “disappointment explained.” Knight, A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists .
Some years later, Edson reported on his experience: “ While passing through a large field I was stopped about midway of the field. Heaven seemed open to my view, and I saw distinctly and clearly that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the 2300 days, that He for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary; and that He had a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth. That he came to the marriage at that time; in other words, to the Ancient of days to receive a kingdom, dominion, and glory; and we must wait for his return from the wedding.” Hiram Edson, "Experience in the Advent Movement (Incomplete), p. 9. This undated document was apparently not written until many years after this event and was probably influenced by the ideas of later authors.
Edson’s experience led him into an extended study on the topic with O. R. L. Crosier and F. B. Hahn. They came to the conclusion that “the sanctuary to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth or the church, but the sanctuary in heaven.” Knight, Millennial Fever , 305-306. Therefore, the October 22 date marked not the Second Coming of Christ, but rather a heavenly event. This is the basis for the later Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the Investigative Judgement. Their insights were published in early 1845 in the Day Dawn.
REFERENCES: LeRoy Edwin Froom The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers Vol. IV. Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1954, 941-963. George R. Knight Millennial Fever Boise: Pacific Press, 1993, 295-325.
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on SDA Church History at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2007. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]