The Great Disappointment/Millerite Movement
Self-proclaimed prophet William Miller and his Millerite followers led a notorious religious movement based on his calculated prediction of the second coming of Christ. The failure of Christ to return to Earth on October 22.1844 and all of its disastrous effects was deemed the Great Disappointment after the extreme disappointment and stress experienced by the movement's fervent followers. Aside from the destruction of this day, The Great Disappointment produced the Seventh Day Adventists, as well as numerous cases of mental instability.

-1782 Miller born
-1818-1832 Miller works on proving theory
-1843-1844 Miller presents first dates
-1843 First failed date
-1844 Samuel S. Snow presents his findings, claims October 22, 1844 as new day. Accepted by Miller and throughout
-1844 Second and major failed date
-1849 Miller dies

William Miller
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William Miller, 1782-1849, raised during the Jacksonian Era, was a self-made farmer-preacher who introduced a new radical message, in which he promised knowledge of the Second Coming of Christ. Long before his career as a prophet, Miller studied Deism through the works of Voltaire, David Hume, and Thomas Paine. After fighting for the Vermont militia, Miller could no longer explain the improbable victories in which he partook as anything other than the 'work of a power mighter than man' and the thought of death began to haunt him. He began attending a Baptist church, of his mother's faith, and one Sunday while reading a sermon he was struck with an unexpected emotion, a feeling of overwhelming happiness, and soon took to the Bible as his guiding light. After two years of studying the Bible, Miller identified rules for interpreting the text, which reveal much about the Millerite movement:

-All scripture is necessary, and may be understood by a diligent application and study
-Nothing revealed in the scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering
-Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy, to represent future things, times and events such as:
(mountains meaning governments, beasts meaning kingdoms, waters meaning people, lamp meaning Word of God, and day meaning year)
-God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables... If you wish to understand them, you must combine them all in one
-The most important rule of all is that you must have faith. It must be faith that requires a sacrifice and, if tried, would give up the dearest object on earth, the world and all its desires

"I found, in going through the Bible, the end of all things was clearly and empatically predicted, both as to time and manner. I believed; and immediately the duty to publish this doctrine, that the world might believe and get ready to meet the Judge and Bridegroom at his coming, was impressed upon my mind."
-William Miller

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The End of the World, 1843: Millerite Art by Carol Crown

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An early prophetic chart produced by a Saturday-keeping Adventist, but closely resembling the 1843 Millerite chart. Designed by Samuel Rhodes

Millerite Movement
The great, overriding touchstone of existence for the Millerites (followers of Miller) was that there was no future. Miller deemed the earth would come to an end in 1843. This reality made the Millerite movement one of the most dramatic expressions of revivalism in 19th century America. Miller's fear of public rejection kept him from publishing his prophecy for 12 years. Feeble at the age of 50, Miller found strength in the power of his message. Joshua V. Himes was taken by Miller's message and insisted on spreading it to Boston and surrounding cities (previously kept safe by Miller in Hampton, NY), eventually giving the movement and its founder a public identity. The excitement of Miller's message reduced the appeal of traditional church services for many people, he provided a place, in advertently, for those who cannot abide in churches to flee to. Miller faced extreme critcism, although he never intended to divide the churches nor lure converts away from them, sectarianism was the enemy of his message. He wrote in 1822, "I believe that before Christ comes in his glory, all sectarian principles will be shaken." The message of hope was too strong, the bond of persecution and fellowship too great, for Miller to sustain his nonsectarian dream. In 1843, his prophecy failed along with the notion that every Bible prophecy had been fulfilled on shcedule. He belived he had been misled by Bible scholars and historians. He saw no reason to question the evidence on which rest the fundamental principles of his faith, and therefore set a new date, October 22, 1844, for which he believed the Second Advent of Christ would occur.

October 22, 1844- The Fated Day

In the days leading up October 22, 1844, followers of Miller sold their possessions, stopped working, paid off debts, and settled old quarrels. Once these tasks were completed, Millerites spent their “final days” with family and friends, often praying and singing hymns. Legend has it that Miller and his family prayed on Ascension Rock on the evening of October 21, but Miller does not mention this at all in his recollection of that night. When October 22 finally arrived, the result was…nothing. No Savior came, no natural phenomena occurred. Instead of melting in divine fire, the world was dissolved in bitter tears. The knowledge of failure ascended on even the most devout Millerites, and emotional turmoil ensued. Shock, grief, and perplexity were widespread. The principle emotion felt by most everyone involved in the movement, however, was (appropriately) disappointment. Along with these feelings of disappointment, the individuals were faced with a stark reality: if they didn’t return to their previous jobs before winter arrived, they and their families would suffer extreme hardships. Hiram Edson, one of the movement’s leaders, wrote the following memoir about that October day:

“Our expectations were raised high, and thus we looked for the coming of the Lord till the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn. I mused in my own heart, saying, My advent experience has been the richest and brightest of all my Christian experience. If this had proved a failure, what was the rest of my Christian experience worth? Has the Bible proved a failure? Is there no God- no heaven- no golden home city- no paradise? Is this all but a cunningly devised fable? Is there no reality to our fondest hopes and expectation of these things?”

Joshua Vaughan Himes, another leader of the movement, was faced with much opposition about what had actually occurred on October 22. While he and other leaders were publicly confessing that their prediction was wrong, other Adventists were claiming that something had indeed happened- in the spiritual world, at least. These radical Adventists claimed that Jesus had returned to the world spiritually and set them (the Millerites) apart for salvation, while damning the wicked (everyone else). According to them, this salvation gave them power to judge other people and perform miracles. Apollos Hale and Joseph Turner also proposed that events did occur on October 22 in the spiritual world. They believed that Jesus entered the sanctuary in heaven, separated the saved from the wicked, and shut the door of mercy, closing probation and the possibility of salvation for sinners. Thus, he fulfilled the prophecies in the spiritual world rather than the physical world. Miller offered no assistance to Himes in defending the official belief that nothing had happened on October 22. In fact, after analyzing the chronology of events, Miller believed that they had not sufficiently completed all the stages as outlined in Matthew’s parable of the ten virgins. He believed that Jesus had shut the door of mercy to sinners because there were unbelievers who had not accepted the bridegroom’s invitation to attend his banquet in the first place. Thus, Miller blamed the Adventists for their disbelief.

Continued Belief and the Seventh Day Adventists
In eighteen hundred forty-four,
We thought the curse would be no more.
The things of the earth we left behind,
To meet the Saviour of mankind.
With many we took the parting hand,
Till meeting in a better land.
The day passed by--no tongue can tell
The floom that on the faithful fell.
That what it meant they hardly knew
But to their Lord they quickly flew.
They searched the Word, and not in vain,
For comfort there they did obtain.
They found "the bridge" they had passed o'er;
Then they rejoiced and grieved no more.
Their faith was firm in that blest Book,
And still for Jesus they did look.
-Brother S. Bliss, 1844

Despite Miller’s determined day for the Second Coming of Christ came and went uneventfully, there were still those that believed it was coming, and soon. Even in death, William Miller held closely to his beliefs, foor his tombstone it reads "At the time appointed the end shall be." One such person who still fervently believed in Miller was Ellen White, formerly Ellen Harmon, who heard Miller preaching at a young age. He made strong impressions on her, and his beliefs stuck with her. Eventually she married Pastor James White and formed the modern Seventh Day Adventists. They mainly used Miller’s preaching and ensued a strict interpretation of the Bible. When Ellen was still a young girl, she claimed to have received a vision from God shortly after the Great Disappointment in which He told her to lead those who had trusted in Miller. Over time, the Adventists gained followers. Joseph Bates, a fellow believer of Miller and sea captain by profession who saved $10,000 and retired as a promise to his wife, was introduced to the Whites. Bates had turned to the Bible for answers after the Great Disappointment and come to the conclusion that Ellen White was a true prophet and worthy of following. William Miller would never get to see these movements gain ground.

Effect on America
The group known as the Seventh Day Adventists spawned directly from the Millerites, post October 22,1844 when the Millerites shed their title out of disappointment. A key note in examining the ultimate significance of the Millerite movement is that religion is very rarely separated from foreign and political relations. Seventh Day Adventists and other Christians alike in European countries refused to be associated with the American Seventh Day Adventists. Those who believed and prepared for the day now know as the Great Disappointment, such as Joseph Bates, were shunned. Over time more and more Seventh Day Adventists claimed to know the exact date of the Second Coming, and at times sought prophet for this knowledge. Joseph Himes, a preacher who worked alongside Miller, was accused of pocketing money by selling writings and pamphlets spreading Adventist beliefs. Debates rage on even today over the possibility of a Second Coming.

Soon after Bates began to follow White and the Seventh Day Adventists, he led a temperance movement, fighting the usage of tobacco, tea and coffee. This movement was a direct result of the Great Disappointment. The Seventh Day Adventists, James White specifically, provided the funding for John Harvey Kellogg to attend New York University Medical College. Kellogg started his now famous sanitarium and health clinic promoting a healthier lifestyle and from this arose the brand Kellog's. America can thank William Miller for Corn Flakes, indirectly of course.

The religious revivals of the nineteenth century coincided with- and indirectly encouraged- a boom in asylum building that saw the opening of approximately 24 new asylums in America between 1810 and 1850. 21 of the first 76 admissions to the New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane were thought to have resulted from religious excitement and the first was a Millerite. In 1843, 7% of the patients entered into the Worcester State Lunatic Hospital and over half of all cases resulting from religious causes could be charged to Millerism. According to Amariah Brigham, the insidious effects of Millerism stemmed less from its peculiar teachings then from its tendency to deprive "excitable and nervous persons" of needed sleep while they attended protracted meetings. Regardless of the reasons, Millerism was highly correlated with religious insanity in comparison to other practices at the time.

Modern day Evangelist preachers reference this unusual time in American history. Benny Hinn lectures to crowds about this incidence and Bill Graham, instead of deciphering when Jesus will return, teaches his assemblies how to prepare for it. October 22, 1844 was one of the most influential uneventful days in the United States' religious history.

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Do you believe in The Second Coming?
If someone predicted The Second Coming, would you give up all of your possessions in preparation?
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Do you believe The Second Coming can be calculated based on the text of the Bible?

Numbers, Ronald L. The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington And Indianapolis: Indiana Universtiy Press, 1987.
Jordan, Anne Devereaux. The Seventh-Day Adventists: A History. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1988.
Dick, Everett N. William Miller and the Advent Crisis. Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1994.
Doan, Ruth Alden. The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.
Rowe, David L. God's Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.
Albert, Baumgarten I. Apocalyptic Time. Vol. 86. Boston: Brill, 2000.
Stone, Jon R. Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. New York And London: Routledge, 2000.