William Miller: Was He really a Great Reformer?
By Dirk Anderson
William Miller was born in 1782. He began attending school at age 9 and continued until the age of 18, after which he had no further education. He married in 1803, and began farming. As a young man he rejected his Baptist upbringing and became a Deist. Miller became a Freemason and "advanced to the highest degree which the lodges then in the country, or in that region, could confer."1
Miller served in the War of 1812 as a captain, and afterward renewed his Baptist faith. Miller began studying the Bible intensely, and in 1818 he came to the conclusion Christ was going to return in 1843 based upon his understanding of Daniel 8:14. He first presented his findings in a document published in 1822. In 1831, Miller was ordained as a Baptist preacher and he began lecturing in various churches, sharing with them his theories on Christ's imminent return.
While Miller never personally set an exact date for the return, he did narrow it down to a year:
"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."2
Miller managed to garner a small following and his disciples called him by the affectionate terms "Prophet Miller" and "Father Miller."3 After March 21, 1844, passed without Christ returning, Prophet Miller admitted his mistake to his followers. When a new date, October 22, 1844, was proposed by Samuel Snow, Prophet Miller was, at first, reluctant to endorse it. However, Snow eventually convinced Miller who signed an endorsement of the date in early October of 1844. On October 12, 1844, Prophet Miller published this letter to the editor of the Midnight Cry:
"I thank God for this light. My soul is so full I cannot write. My doubts and fears and darkness are all gone. I see that we are yet right. . . and my soul is full of joy; my heart is full of gratitude to God. Oh, how I wish I could shout; but I will shout when the King of Kings comes.
After the failure of the 1844 date, "Prophet Miller" withdrew from public ministry but continued to look for the imminent return of Christ until his death in 1849.5
William Miller endorsed by Ellen White
Ellen White wrote fondly of "Father Miller," believing him to be a modern-day "John the Baptist":
"As John the Baptist heralded the first advent of Jesus and prepared the way for His coming, so William Miller and those who joined with him proclaimed the second advent of the Son of God."6
In her epic book The Great Controversy, Mrs. White places Miller alongside the great Protestant reformers, such as Luther and Wycliffe. In that book she devotes an entire chapter to the "American Reformer."7 She compares Miller's calling to preach his theories on the date of Christ's return with God's call of the prophet Elisha:
"As Elisha was called following his oxen in the field, to receive the mantle of consecration to the prophetic office, so was William Miller called to leave his plow and open to the people the mysteries of the kingdom of God."8
And what mystery of God did Miller have for the people? That Christ was going to return in 1843/1844:
"In 1818, he reached the solemn conviction that in about twenty-five years Christ would appear for the redemption of His people."9
Thus, Ellen White makes it clear that Miller was called to preach a message that was essentially false--a message that would cause the few who believed and accepted it to suffer a great disappointment when Jesus failed to return as planned.
Knowing what we do of William Miller, knowing that he set false dates for Christ's return, knowing that these false dates were the primary emphasis of his message, knowing that his message, albeit sincere, deluded thousands of people, does he really deserve to stand among the giants of the Christian faith? Was he really a great reformer?
Compare and Contrast: Miller vs. Protestant Reformers
All of the great Protestant reformers were leaders in their churches, well-educated, of outstanding scholarly ability, and had far-reaching influence. Ellen White mentions these facts in the Great Controversy:
"Wycliffe received a liberal education, and with him the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. He was noted at college for his fervent piety as well as for his remarkable talents and sound scholarship. In his thirst for knowledge he sought to become acquainted with every branch of learning. He was educated in the scholastic philosophy, in the canons of the church, and in the civil law, especially that of his own country. . . . The power of his genius and the extent and thoroughness of his knowledge commanded the respect of both friends and foes. His adherents saw with satisfaction that their champion stood foremost among the leading minds of the nation..."10
Huss and Jerome
"Huss studied at the provincial school, and then repaired to the university at Prague, receiving admission as a charity scholar. . . . At the university, Huss soon distinguished himself by his untiring application and rapid progress, while his blameless life and gentle, winning deportment gained him universal esteem. . . . After completing his college course, he entered the priesthood, and rapidly attaining to eminence, he soon became attached to the court of the king. He was also made professor and afterward rector of the university where he had received his education. In a few years the humble charity scholar had become the pride of his country, and his name was renowned throughout Europe.11
"At the age of eighteen, he entered the University of Erfurt... A retentive memory, a lively imagination, strong reasoning powers, and untiring application soon placed him in the foremost rank among his associates."13
"Lefevre, a man of extensive learning, a professor in the University of Paris."15
Leaders of the English Reformation
"Barnes and Frith, the faithful friends of Tyndale, arose to defend the truth. The Ridleys and Cranmer followed. These leaders in the English Reformation were men of learning..."16
The reformers often appeared before kings and high government officials:
"Other teachers who ranked high for their ability and learning joined in proclaiming the gospel, and it won adherents among all classes, from the homes of artisans and peasants to the palace of the king."17
Now contrast what you have just read about the great Protestant Reformers to William Miller:
In studying the results of the life-work of William Miller it is difficult to understand how one could put him in the same league as the great Protestant Reformers. Furthermore, it seems a gross exageration to categorize his work with such Bible greats as Elisha and John the Baptist. While Miller may have been sincere in his efforts, his interpretations of the Bible were fanatical and incorrect, and the movement he inspired is now regarded as little more than an unfortunate blemish on Christian history.
1. Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller, pp. 21-22.
2. Everett N. Dick, William Miller and the Advent Crisis, pp. 96-97.
3. Follower Ellen G. White referred to William Miller as "Father Miller": In 1884 she wrote, "Those who are engaged in proclaiming the third angel's message are searching the Scriptures upon the same plan that Father Miller adopted. In the little book entitled 'Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology,' Father Miller gives the following simple but intelligent and important rules for Bible study..." (Review and Herald, November 25, 1884). See Days of Delusion by Clara Endicatt Sears for the term "Prophet Miller".
4. William Miller, letter to Joshua Himes, published in Midnight Cry, Oct. 12, 1844, as quoted in Clara Endicott Sears, Days of Delusion, chapter 9 (1924).
5. The source of the biographical dates and major events regarding William Miller in the above paragraphs is the Wikipedia article "William Miller (preacher)".
6. Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 229.
7. Ellen G. White, Great Controversy, chapter 18, "An American Reformer".
8. Ibid., p. 331.
9. Ibid., p. 329.
10. Ibid., p. 80.
11. Ibid., p. 98.
12. Ibid., p. 102.
13. Ibid., p. 121.
14. Ibid., p. 125.
15. Ibid., p. 212.
16. Ibid., p. 248.
17. Ibid., p. 214.
18. Ibid., p. 317.
Category: 1844 Movement
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below