William Miller? The Millerites? A cult that predicted the end of the world would come in 1844, and then failed? And from that cult, emerged another--Jehovah's Witnesses, which also predicted the end of the world several times and failed? QI definitely lived up to its name in this instance. I had to know more.
William Miller was born in 1782 into a relatively poor family. He was the firstborn of 16 children, and because of the time period, had become quite a laborer. There was not very much education available at the time, in the Millers' town of dwelling, Low Hampton. In fact, it only provided about 3 months worth of education. His father was a war veteran, and his mother--a devout baptist. Needless to say, in that household, there was little to no room for questions from a young boy who had a thirst for knowledge. His mother, however, did teach him to read--and in a very short time, William Miller had developed a ravenous appetite for books.
He would read anything he could get his hands on, and often would be awake all night doing so. His father, who William assisted in the farms during the day, would wonder if his reading all night would eventually interfere with his work. As a result, his father commanded William to go directly to bed at the same time he did. William could not bear that, though. He would wait until everyone else was asleep, creep down to the fireplace, light a fire, and read as long as he could.
Eventually, William married and moved away to Poultney, VT in 1803. There, he continued his journey of education through books. He didn't spend as much time reading as he would have preferred, as he now had a wife and household to support. He spent much of his time in the farming business he had learned from the time with his father. However, William's wife greatly encouraged him to continue in his pursuit of reading and educating himself.
During the time of this self-taught education, he began questioning a lot of the things he was being taught and seeing in the Christian churches. He withdrew from them, because above anything, he wanted to find something noble in character before anything else! He even wrote in his own memoir: "The more I read, the more dreadfully corrupt did the character of man appear. I could discern no bright spot in the history of the past. Those conquerors of the world, and heroes of history, were apparently but demons in human form. All the sorrow, suffering, and misery in the world, seem to be increaded in proportion to the power they obtained over their fellows. I began to feel very distrustful of all men. In this state of mind, I entered the service of my country. I fondly cherished the idea that I should find one bright spot at least in the human character, as a star of hope--a love of country--PATRIOTISM."
So it was no surprise that in the war of 1812, William Miller received a commission as captain and entered the army. He lead an infantry regiment at the Battle of Plattsburg. They were extremely outnumbered by the British, and Miller had no idea how they could possibly win. But, by what he deemed as divine intervention, they came off victorious. Miller believed, then, that God stepped in to save him for a distinct purpose. And because of this victory, and came out as a hero and was very respected among his counterparts.
This all sets the stage for the events that would unfold. Miller was highly regarded among his community, he was a self-made educated man who was known for his knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. So, when he took to reading and interpreting the Bible in its entirety, he had credibility on his side. People listened.
What was of particular interest to Miller was the End of Times, as described in the book of Daniel, and--he believed--it would be fulfilled in the book of Revelation. He took passages from Daniel that refer to 1,260 days, transformed each day into years, and used the beginning point of the rebuilding of the Jewish temple and arrived at the year 1843 for the end of the world.
He was likable, trustworthy, and so convincing, that his "prophecy" gained lots of momentum. He utilized the technology available in that era--the high speed printing press to produce pamphlets, and employed a gentleman named Joshua Himes to promote the movement into a mass "organization" called the Millerites. Two of the pamphlets produced and promoted by Himes and Miller were entitled Signs of the Times and Midnight Cry. Take a gander at one of the flyers produced and dispensed by this organization. Looks like something right out of Jehovah's Witness publication, Revelation--The Great Climax is at Hand, doesn't it?
Interesting to note, at this time, the Millerites were admonished to keep away from, and not have any association with those who would nay-say, or those who were deemed "evil" so as not to distract them from God. Miller was even a freemason at one point, and chose to remove himself from the group, stating that he did so to "avoid fellowship with any practice that may be incompatible with the word of God among masons. He even wrote a letter to his followers to treat Freemasons "as they would any other evil". Starting to sound a bit familiar, yet?
Obviously, the year 1843 came and went, with no Apocalypse. What gives? Well it turns out that Miller had miscalculated. He failed to add in the year which BC turns to AD. So all he had to do now was simply move the prophecy forward one year. He even pegged it down to an exact date. October 22, 1844. This new date extended and greatly increased the excitement. At this point, there were over a million Millerites awaiting the end of times, and anxious for Christ to come sweep them up to heaven.
The day, forever after called the Great Disappointment, arrived and passed. People had literally given everything they had as a result of belief and trust in this prophecy. They had sold their homes, farms, and even given their lives awaiting it. When the day came, and Christ did not appear, there was incredible dismay. The Millerites were literally traumatized, frenzied and utterly disappointed. Ultimately the group disbanded.
Note some glaring similarities:
- Only the Millerites had the truth. All other churches, and religions at the time were regarded as Babylon the Great.
- Christendom was called the whore (harlot) of Babylon the Great.
- Millerites stopped their educations, and sold or gave away their possessions in enthusiastic anticipation of the Great Day of God--the end of times.
- Millerites produced and dispensed large amounts of pamphlets and flyers to gain awareness of the prophecy.
Though William Miller did issue a heartfelt apology (which is definitely more sincere than the arrogant use of "new light" employed by Jehovah's Witnesses), he did continue to warn that the end was still near. The signs of the times were still there, there's just no exact date. So it makes perfect sense why Charles Russell, a Millerite at the time, proceeded with the same fervor in his creation of the Bible Students, which later became the organization we all know as Jehovah's Witnesses. This group, which employs some of the exact tactics used by William Miller to keep people "anxiously awaiting" a day which has, and most certainly never will, come.
Truthfully, it seems to me that William Miller was at least genuine and earnest in this movement. He sincerely believed the end would come in 1844, and he was greatly disappointed along with his followers when it never came to pass. I believe Charles Russell--in the creation of his organization, and failed prophecies to come--was also very sincere. However, the leaders of the organization have progressively evolved into something much less sincere, and much more controlled.
I'd be willing to bet that there is little more than a handful of active Jehovah's Witnesses who actually know where their organization comes from. That it actually is a direct derivation of a previous "last days" cult which also failed at predicting the end of the world. This is why I keep stressing to do your research. Find out the truth about the corporation in which you are involved. The answers are there. The history is there. All that is required is to open your eyes.
My silver lining in all of this is if I had never been exposed to the cult of Jehovah's Witnesses, I wouldn't be in the place I am right now. I wouldn't be writing this blog, and I wouldn't have the insatiable desire to find actual truth. I would be much more susceptible to what others believe and accept it as factual without reason, and research. It is because of the Jehovah's Witnesses that I have realized the fallacy of taking the opinions of others as my own. It is because of their arrogance that I the humility to say how little I know, and how much I have to learn. So for that--thanks, William Miller. My life would have been completely different if you'd never existed.