Foreword Written 2005, updated 2021. This book, published in 1875, is the biography of a great man of God - William Miller. He can truly be called the first person in the history of the world to start proclaiming the 1st Angel's Message of Revelation 14. His only "date setting" was to say that "some time between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, the Lord would come". It was a surprise to the webmaster to learn that William Miller did not accept the October 22, 1844 date until that very same month!
James White created this biography by borrowing largely from Sylvester Bliss's earlier biography of William Miller. The focus of this book is on showing that William Miller was led of God, and was not fanatic. If he just could have seen that the sanctuary to be cleansed was the heavenly, and not this earth, his disappointment at not being taken up in that great cloud would have been explained.
May this volume prove of especial benefit to those studying the Great Second Advent movement of 1831-1844.
BEFORE us is a plain volume, the title page of which reads, "Memoir of William Miller generally known as a Lecturer on the Prophecies and the Second Coming of Christ, by Sylvester Bliss, author of Analysis of Sacred Chronology, a brief Commentary on the Apocalypse," etc.
Mr. Bliss was for more than twenty years the local and able conductor of the Advent Herald, which sustained the leading doctrines promulgated by Mr. Miller, published at Boston, Mass. The publisher of this volume, Elder Joshua V. Himes, Mr. Miller's intimate fellow-laborer and friend, in his preface says:--
"The name of William Miller, of Low Hampton, N. Y., is too well known to require an extended introduction; but while well known, few men have been more diversely regarded than he. Those who have only heard his name associated with all that is hateful in fanaticism, have necessarily formed opinions respecting him anything but complimentary to his intelligence and sanity; but those who knew him better, esteemed him as a man of more than ordinary mental power, a cool, sagacious, and honest reasoner, a humble and devout Christian, a kind and affectionate friend, a man of great moral and social worth."
"However his public labors may be regarded by a majority of the community, it will be seen, by a perusal of his life, that these were by no means unproductive of great good. The revivals of religion which attended his labors are testified to by those who participated in them; and hundreds of souls will ever refer to him as a means, under God, of their awakening and conversion."
"As the public learn to discriminate between the actual position of Mr. Miller and that which prejudice has conceived that he occupied, his conservativeness, and his disapprobation of every fanatical practice will be admitted, and a much more just estimate will be had of him."
We hold that the great movement upon the second advent question, which commenced with the writings and public lectures of William Miller, has been, in its leading features, in fulfillment of prophecy. Consistent with this view, we also hold that in the providence of God Mr. Miller was raised up to do a specific work; therefore to us the history of the important events in his Christian life and public labors possess peculiar interest.
It is true that Mr. Miller and his associates and numerous friends were disappointed in the definite time of the second coming of Christ. And as might be expected from the nature of the case, those who have not sufficient interest to investigate the subject, especially those who are opposed to the doctrine of the soon coming of the Redeemer, conclude that the second advent movement has been a fanatical mistake.
But we take a more favorable view of this matter. We hold that Mr. Miller was correct in three of the four fundamental points of Adventism, while on the fourth he was mistaken. But even this one mistake, viewed in the light of Scripture and reason, does not in the least affect his general position.
1. Mr. Miller was correct in his views of the pre-millennial second appearing of Christ. No doctrine is more plainly stated and more fully sustained by the sacred Scriptures than the personal appearing and reign of Jesus Christ. And whatever may be said of the views and labors of Mr. Miller, this fact will not be denied, that very many ministers of the different denominations changed their views upon the millennium, renouncing the popular view of the conversion of the world, and the spiritual coming and reign of Jesus Christ.
2. Mr. Miller was correct in his application of the prophetic symbols of Daniel and John. In this he is sustained by Protestant expositors generally.
3. He was also correct in his exposition and application of the prophetic periods. The dates fixed upon have stood the test of the most rigid criticism. And those Adventists who have changed to other dates have done so simply because of the passing by of the first periods of expectation.
4. But Mr. Miller was mistaken in the event to occur at the close of the prophetic periods, hence his disappointment. In the case of the 2300 days of Dan. 8, which period was the main pillar in his calculations, his error was in supposing the earth to be the sanctuary of that prophecy, and that it was to be cleansed by the fires of the last day.
The primary signification of the word sanctuary is "a sacred place." Neither the earth, nor any portion of it, has been such a place since the fall of man, and the reign of Satan and of death began. The apostle's commentary upon the typical system, in his epistle to the Hebrews, points to two sacred places as the sanctuary of Jehovah; first, the typical tabernacle of the Jews; and, second, the greater and more perfect tabernacle of which Christ is now minister in Heaven.*
But other great men have made as grave mistakes relative to the event to occur at the close of the great periods of Daniel as Mr. Miller. These, however, are soon forgotten, while that of Mr. Miller is ever fresh in the public mind. The learned late Geo. Bush, Prof. of Hebrew and Oriental Literature in the New York City University, in a letter addressed to Mr. Miller, and published in the Advent Herald for March, 1844, made some very important admissions relative to his calculations of the prophetic times. Mr. Bush says:--
"Neither is it to be objected, as I conceive, to yourself or your friends, that you have devoted much time and attention to the study of the chronology of prophecy, and have labored much to determine the commencing and closing dates of its great periods. If these periods are actually given by the Holy Ghost in the prophetic books, it was doubtless with the design that they should be studied, and probably, in the end, fully understood; and no man is to be charged with presumptuous folly who reverently makes the attempt to do this. On this point, I have myself no charges to bring against you. Nay, I am even ready to go so far as to say that I do not conceive your errors on the subject of chronology to be at all of a serious nature, or, in fact, to be very wide of the truth. In taking a day as the prophetical term for a year, I believe you are sustained by the soundest exegesis, as well as fortified by the high names of Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, Kirby, Scott, Keith, and a host of others, who have long since come to substantially your conclusions on this head. They all agree that the leading periods mentioned by Daniel and John do actually expire about this age of the world, and it would be a strange logic that would convict you of heresy for holding in effect the same views which stand forth so prominent in the notices of these eminent divines. Your error, as I apprehend, lies in another direction than your chronology."
Here Prof. Bush speaks frankly and truthfully, and his words of candor and wisdom sustain the Adventists in that feature of their faith most objectionable to their opponents. But what was the event for which Mr. Bush looked to mark the termination of the 2300 days? Let the following extract from the same letter to Mr. Miller answer:--
"You have entirely mistaken the nature of the events which are to occur when those periods have expired. This is the head and front of your expository offending. You have assumed that the close of the 2300 days of Daniel, for instance, is also the close of the period of human probation, that it is the epoch of the visible and personal second coming of Christ--of the resurrection of the righteous dead, and of the dissolution of the present mundane system. The great event before the world is not its physical conflagration, but its moral regeneration. Although there is doubtless a sense in which Christ may be said to come in connection with the passing away of the fourth empire and of the Ottoman power, and his kingdom to be illustriously established, yet that will be found to be a spiritual coming in the power of his gospel, in the ample outpouring of his Spirit, and the glorious administration of his providence."
Evidently, Mr. Bush looked for the conversion of the world as the event to mark the termination of the 2300 days. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Bush were right on the time question, and both were mistaken in the event to occur at the close of the great periods. Mr. Miller held that the world would be regenerated by fire, and Mr. Bush, by the gospel, at the end of the 2300 days. The conversion-of-the-world theory of Mr. Bush has had the terrible test of the last thirty-two years of apostasy, spiritual darkness, and crime. This period has been noted by departures from the faith of the gospel, and apostasies from the Christian religion. Infidelity in various forms, especially in the name of spiritualism, has spread over the Christian world with fearful rapidity, while the dark record of crime has been blackening since Prof. Bush addressed his letter to Wm. Miller. If this be the commencement of the temporal millennium, may the Lord save us from the balance. Both these great men mistook the event to terminate the 2300 days. And why should Mr. Miller be condemned for his mistake, and Mr. Bush be excused for his unscriptural conclusion? In the name of reason and justice we plead that, while the Christian world excuses Prof. Bush for his mistake, professedly pious men and women will not too severely censure Mr. Miller for his.
If it be objected that the second advent movement, as introduced in our country by Mr. Miller, could not have been in harmony with Providence, in fulfillment of prophecy, because those who engaged in it were disappointed, then we suggest that, if God's people never have been disappointed on the very point of their expectation when prophecy was being fulfilled in their experience and history, then it may be that prophecy has not been fulfilled in the advent movement. But if one instance can be shown in Sacred History where prophecy was fulfilled by those who were entirely incorrect on the vital point of their confident expectation, then, after all, prophecy may have been fulfilled in the great second advent movement of 1840-4. This matter should be fully tested.
The prophet of God had uttered these words about five hundred years before their fulfillment: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass." Zech. 9:9. In fulfillment of this prophecy, while Christ was riding into Jerusalem in the very humble manner expressed by the prophet, the chosen twelve, and the shouting multitude, cried, "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Matt. 21:9. The people, and even the disciples, did not as yet understand the nature of Christ's kingdom; and they verily thought that Jesus would on that occasion claim his right to the throne of David, and then, and there, be crowned king of Israel.
And when Jesus was requested to rebuke his disciples, he replied, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." Prophecy had gone forth, and must be fulfilled, if the Spirit of God from necessity should call hosannas from the very stones.
But the people did not understand the nature of prophetic fulfillment of their time; and their disappointment was complete. In a few days they witnessed the dying agonies of the Son of God upon the cross, and as Christ died, their hopes in him died also. Nevertheless, prophecy was fulfilled in the ardent hopes and triumphant hosannas of those who were so soon overwhelmed with bitterest disappointment.
In gathering material for this work, we have copied very largely from Mr. Bliss, especially from the correspondence and writings of Mr. Miller which are incorporated into his Memoir. And we have thought best to introduce matter from the pen of Mr. Miller, not found in his Memoir, as his writings, probably, better represent the advent movement and cause than those of any other. And as the best means by which the people may learn the real sentiments, the candor, and the true piety of this humble servant of Jesus Christ, we would let his writings testify.
The introduction into this small volume of so large an amount of matter from Mr. Miller makes it necessary to omit a large portion of his Memoir that is devoted to his earlier life, as we hasten to his deeply interesting Christian experience. But in necessarily omitting portions, we hope not to appear to do Mr. Miller and his biographer injustice, while we content ourself with little more than space for this introduction, and foot notes.
In the preparation of this work, we have been greatly edified and refreshed in spirit, as we have necessarily read very much from the able, candid, and godly pen of Mr. Miller; and we heartily wish the same blessing upon the candid reader.
Battle Creek, January, 1875.
*For a full exposition of the subject of the sanctuary and the nature of its cleansing, see Thoughts on Daniel, by U. Smith, and The Sanctuary and Twenty-three Hundred Days, by J. N. Andrews.
ANCESTRY AND EARLY LIFE--MARRIAGE--DEISTICAL SENTIMENTS--MILITARY LIFE.
WILLIAM MILLER was born at Pittsfield, Mass., February 15, 1782. He was the eldest of sixteen children, five of whom were sons, and eleven were daughters. His grandfather, William Miller, moved from West Springfield, Mass., about 1747, and settled on the place in Pittsfield, now familiarly known as the Miller farm. His father, William Miller, was born December 15, 1757, and remained on the farm taken up by his father until he moved to Low Hampton, N. Y., in 1786. At the time of this removal the subject of this sketch was four years old. His biographer says:--
"In his early childhood, marks of more than ordinary intellectual strength and activity were manifested. A few years made these marks more and more noticeable to all who fell into his society. But where were the powers of the inner man to find the nutriment to satisfy their cravings, and the field for their exercise? Besides the natural elements of education, the objects, the scenes, and the changes of the natural world, which have ever furnished to all truly great minds their noblest aliment, the inspiring historical recollections associated with well-known localities of the neighboring country, and the society of domestic life, there was nothing within William's reach but the Bible, the psalter, and prayer-book, till he had resided at Low Hampton several years."
"In a newly settled country, the public means of education must necessarily be very limited. This was the case, at the time here referred to, in a much greater degree than it usually is with the new settlements of the present day. The school-house was not erected in season to afford the children of Low Hampton but three months' schooling in winter, during William's school-boy days. His mother taught him to read, so that he soon mastered the few books belonging to the family; and this prepared him to enter the 'senior class' when the district school opened. But if the terms were short, the winter nights were long. Pine knots could be made to supply the want of candles, lamps, and gas. And the spacious fireplace in the log house was ample enough as a substitute for the school-house and lecture-room. But even the enjoyment of these literary advantages subjected the zealous student to a somewhat severe discipline."
"As soon as William's age and strength rendered him able to assist his father about the farm, it was feared that his reading by night might interfere with his efficiency in the work of the day. His father insisted, therefore, that he should retire to bed when he retired himself. But the boy could not be kept in bed. When the other members of the family were all asleep, William would leave his bed, then find his way to the pitch-wood, go to the fireplace, cast himself down flat on the hearth, with his book before him, thrust his pitch-wood into the embers till it blazed well, and there spend the hours of midnight in reading. If the blaze grew dim, he would hold the stick in the embers till the heat fried the pitch out of the wood, which renewed the blaze. And when he had read as long as he dared to, or finished his book, he would find his way back to bed again, with as little noise as possible."
"He possessed a strong physical constitution, an active and naturally well-developed intellect, and an irreproachable moral character. He had appropriated to his use and amusement the small stock of literature afforded by the family, while a child. He had enjoyed the limited advantages of the district school but a few years before it was generally admitted that his attainments exceeded those of the teachers usually employed. He had drunk in the inspiration of the natural world around him, and of the most exciting events in his country's history. His imagination had been quickened, and his heart warmed, by the adventures and gallantries of fiction, and his intellect enriched by history. And some of his earliest efforts with the pen, as well as the testimony of his associates, show that his mind and heart were ennobled by the lessons, if not by the spirit and power of religion.
"What, now, would have been the effect of what is called a regular course of education? Would it have perverted him, as it has thousands? or would it have made him instrumental of greater good in the cause of God? Would it have performed its appropriate work, that of disciplining, enlarging, and furnishing the mind, leaving unimpaired by the process its natural energies, its sense of self-dependence as to man, and its sense of dependence and accountability as to God? or would it have placed him in the crowded ranks of those who are content to share in the honor of repeating the twaddle, true or false, which passes for truth in the school or sect which has 'made them what they are'?
"We think it would have been difficult to pervert him; but where so many who have been regarded as highly promising have been marred by the operation, he would have been in great danger. He might have become externally a better subject for the artist; but we doubt if he would have been a better subject to be used as an instrument of Providence. There are those who survive the regular course uninjured. There are those who are benefited by it so far as to be raised to a level with people of ordinary capacity, which they never could attain without special aid. And there is a third class, who are a stereotype representation of what the course makes them; if they raise a fellow-man out of the mire, they never get him nearer to Heaven than the school where they were educated.
"Whatever might have been the result of any established course of education, in the case of William Miller, such a course was beyond his reach; he was deprived of the benefit, he has escaped the perversion. Let us be satisfied. But still we must record the fact that it would have been extremely gratifying if something of the kind could have been placed at his command. He desired it. He longed for it with an intensity of feeling that approached to agony. He pondered the question over and over, whether it was possible to accomplish what appeared to him to be not only a desirable gratification and honor, but almost essential to his existence.
"It should be noticed, however, that his circumstances became somewhat relieved as he advanced in years. The log house had given place to a comfortable frame house; and, in this, William had a room he was permitted to call his own. He had means to provide himself with a new book, occasionally, and with candles to read at night, so that he could enjoy his chosen luxury, during his leisure hours, in comparative comfort.
"It was on one of these times of leisure that an incident occurred which marked a new era in his history, though it did not introduce fully such an era as he desired. There was a medical gentleman in the vicinity of his residence, by the name of Smith, who possessed an ample fortune, and was known to be very liberal. In the plans which had passed through the mind of William, to secure the means of maturing his education, he had thought of Dr. Smith. At any rate it could do no harm to apply to him. The plan was carried so far as to write a letter, setting forth to that gentleman his intense desires, his want of means to gratify them, his hopes and his prospects, if successful.
"The letter was nearly ready to be sent to its destination, when William's father entered the room, which we may properly call his son's study. Perhaps it had not occurred to the son to consult his father in the matter; and to have it come to his notice in so unexpected a manner somewhat disturbed him for the moment. But there was the letter in his father's presence. He took it, and read it. It affected him deeply. For the first time, he seemed to feel his worldly condition to be uncomfortable, on his son's account. He wanted to be rich then, for the gratification of his son, more than for any other human being.
"There were the irrepressible yearnings of his first-born, which he had treated in their childish development as an annoyance, now spread out in manly but impassioned pleadings to a comparative stranger to afford him help! There were plans and hopes for the future, marked by an exhibition of judgment and honor that could not fail of commanding attention! All that was tender in that father's heart, all that was generous in the soldier, and all that could make him ambitious of a worthy successor, was moved by that letter. The tears fell, and words of sympathy were spoken; but the plan was impossible.
The letter of William's was never sent. It had the effect, however, of changing his father's course toward him, so that he was rather encouraged than hindered in his favorite pursuits. By this time, the natural genius and attainments of young William Miller had distinguished him among his associates. To the young folks, he became a sort of scribbler-general. If any one wanted 'verses made,' a letter to send, some ornamental and symbolic design to be interpreted by 'the tender passion,' or anything which required extra taste and fancy in the use of the pen, it was pretty sure to be planned, if not executed, by him. Some of these first-fruits of his genius are still in existence; and, although it requires no critic to discover that he had never received lessons of any of the 'great masters,' still these productions would compare very favorably with similar efforts by those whose advantages have been far superior to his.
"The facts connected with the early life of Mr. Miller, and the incidents in his personal history, now spread before the readers of this work, will enable them to see, in the boy, a type of the future man. The most embarrassing circumstances of his condition could not master his perseverance. And if he could not accomplish all he desired to, the success which attended his efforts, in spite of great discouragements, was truly surprising. The position he had won opened to him a fairer prospect, though still surrounded with serious dangers."
William Miller was happily married in 1803, and settled in Poultney, Vt. His biographer continues:--
"One of the first objects of his interest, after he had become settled, was the village library. His constant use of its volumes brought him into the society of a superior class of men. His wife took a deep interest in his improvement and promotion; and made it her pleasure and business to relieve him as much as possible from all the family cares which might call him away from his books. She felt very sure that it would not be lost time on his part, or lost labor on her own part. Still, the time he could devote to books, on the best possible arrangement, was not so much as he desired; for he had been trained to the farming business, and he made that his employment, for some years, in Poultney.
"One effort of genius, though trifling in itself, which attracted toward him the public attention of the village and its vicinity, was a poetic effusion, the inspiration of his patriotic ardor. Preparations were going on, at the time, for the public celebration of the anniversary of our national independence; and the inspiration of that memorable day seized Mr. Miller while he was hoeing corn in the field. He had written poetry before; and so, after the labor of the field was done, he put his thoughts into a written form, to be adapted to the familiar old tune, called 'Delight.'
"The appointed marshal, or manager, of the services of the day, was Esquire Ashley, who was then a neighbor of Mr. Miller, and afterward became an intimate friend. But the poet of the day, as he became, was too reserved to offer his tribute, though there is reason to believe it would have been thankfully accepted; for the business of the manager hardly afforded him time to write poetry for the occasion, if he had the ability, or even to select it. Mr. Miller was willing to have his piece seen and used if it was thought to be suitable, but he could not announce himself as its author. So he took the manuscript and walked as usual to Esquire Ashley's house. He seated himself leisurely below the chamber window, where that gentleman was making his preparations for the great celebration. Then, taking an opportunity to place it near where Mrs. Ashley was at work, he shortly after withdrew. As soon as Mrs. Ashley discovered the paper, she took it to her husband, supposing it was one of his papers which had fallen from the window. He took it and read the hymn; it struck him as being just what was wanted; but he knew nothing of its origin. It was carried to several others, who were thought of as its author, but no author or owner of it could be found. 'Perhaps an angel from Heaven had sent it.' So they talked at any rate.
"However, the hymn was copied with the pen, and the sheets multiplied to supply all who wished for one. The day came, and the hymn was sung with the greatest enthusiasm to the favorite old tune, 'Delight'! But among those who distributed the copies, there was a worthy Baptist minister, by the name of Kendrick, who had taken a warm interest in Mr. Miller. His suspicions had pointed him to the author of the piece; and when Mr. Miller came, with others, to get a copy, his appearance and manner confirmed Elder Kendrick's suspicions. Further inquiry brought forth a confession of authorship. To use the phrase of the old folks, 'it was a great feather in his cap.' He had touched the right chord in the right way. The pious and patriotic emotions of the aged were revived; the ardent responses of the young to these patriotic emotions found expression in the new hymn; and nothing more was needed to make its author the popular favorite.
"It is not known that an entire copy of the hymn is now in existence. A sister of its author has repeated to us a few of the stanzas, which we give, more for the purpose of exhibiting his religious and patriotic sentiments than from an expectation that our readers will be affected as were those who first heard it. Its style and meter were strictly in accordance with the standard contained in the hymn book used on Sundays, doubtless the only standard the writer of it was familiar with; and the effect arose from the natural force and simplicity of the versified thoughts, and the perfect ease of the musical execution. But to the fragments of the hymn:--
"'Our Independence dear,
Bought with the price of blood,
Let us receive with care,
And trust our Maker, God.
For he's the tower
To which we fly;
His grace is nigh
In every hour!
"'Nor shall Columbia's sons
Forget the price it cost,
As long as water runs,
Or leaves are nipped by frost.
Freedom is thine;
Let millions rise,
Defend the prize
Through rolling time!
"'There was a Washington,
A man of noble fame,
Who led Columbia's sons
To battle on the plain;
With skill they fought;
The British host,
With all their boast,
Soon came to nought!
"'Let traitors hide their heads,
And party quarrels cease;
Our foes are struck with dread,
When we declare for peace.
Firm let us be,
And rally round
The glorious sound
"The reader will see that the piece was designed for home consumption. It was exactly suited to the occasion; and was marked throughout, in spirit, style, and thought, with the elements of his education. And this production, with others in prose and poetry, made him at once a notable in the community; secured to him a wide circle of friends, and opened the way for his promotion to office and honor. The old men were all ready to give him a lift, almost without distinction of 'party.' The young folks made his house a place of common resort, to which they gathered to spend their leisure hours; while himself and wife became the central unit which drew them together and kept all in motion."
"In his political sentiments, he was decidedly democratic. But he had intelligence enough to see that the practical patriotism of men did not depend so much on the party name they took as on their common sense and integrity. He knew that there were bad men enough in either party to ruin the country, if they had the power to do it; and good men enough in the same parties to promote the public prosperity to the best of their ability. His position, therefore, was taken in view of the tendency of different political principles and public measures, in their ultimate bearing on the established institutions of the country. He enjoyed, in a remarkable degree, the confidence of both the political parties of the day."
"In the case of most men of the world, with the avenues to honor, wealth, and domestic happiness wide open before them, it is not often that a public station so commanding would be voluntarily left for the hardships, privations, and dangers, of the camp. What strong impulses could have turned him off in that direction? Already the business of his office had placed him in easy circumstances. Such was the amount of his business that he kept two horses, one of which he drove, while the other was kept up to rest, week by week, alternately. He enjoyed the respect and unbounded confidence of the public; and he only needed to make himself still as worthy of public favor as he had been hitherto, and then, with life and health, all that this world could afford was within his reach. His preference for the army, so far as we know, sprang from these two motives: First, he desired to participate in the glory which rested on the memory of those he held the most dear, in the history of his country and of his family. Second, he hoped to enjoy a more inviting exhibition of human nature in the scenes of military life than experience or books had afforded in civil life.
"His desire for something noble in character was greater than that for wealth or unsubstantial fame. He was satisfied with the trial of what was around him, and wished to try a new field. This is stated by himself in his published memoir: 'In the meantime, I continued my studies, storing my mind with historical knowledge. 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, seemed to be increased 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.'
"Happy, indeed, should we consider ourselves if there were no drawback to this apparent prosperity to be noted. Rarely is it the case that the honor of God and the honor of man are coincident. If Mr. Miller was not puffed up by the latter, he had lost much of his regard for the former. In his worldly advancement, there was a serious and dangerous departure from the Christian sentiments which were instilled into his mind during his early life. Still there was no defect in his character which the most rigid worldly standard of external morality could detect. He was perfectly upright and honorable in all his dealings. He was generous, almost to a fault, with his friends, compassionate and liberal to the poor, and he held in the highest contempt every act that could tarnish a man's personal and private honor. He was not profane, even to the extent that too many are who pass for gentlemen. He was not intemperate, although he was very much exposed to this ruinous habit from the example of those into whose company his business called him--a habit which had broken down some of his predecessors in office, by rendering them incapable of attending to their business. He escaped from it without the least stain.
"It could be shown, from sentiments embodied in some of his essays, in addresses delivered before societies existing at the time, and in his poetic effusions, that his moral and religious views were of a type that would pass with the world as philosophical, pure, and sublime. But the men with whom he associated from the time of his removal to Poultney, and to whom he was considerably indebted for his worldly favors, were deeply affected with skeptical principles and deistical theories. They were not immoral men; but, as a class, were good citizens, and generally of serious deportment, humane and benevolent. However, they rejected the Bible as the standard of religious truth, and endeavored to make its rejection plausible by such aid as could be obtained from the writings of Voltaire, Hume, Volney, Paine, Ethan Allen, and others. Mr. Miller studied these works closely, and at length avowed himself a deist. As he has stated the period of his deistical life to have been twelve years, that period must have begun in 1804; for he embraced or returned to the Christian faith in 1816. It may fairly be doubted, however, notwithstanding his known thoroughness and consistency, whether Mr. Miller ever was fully settled in that form of deism which reduces man to a level with the brutes, as to the supposed duration of their existence. And the question is worthy of a little inquiry, To what extent was he a deist?
"Robert Hall, with his usual comprehensiveness and truth, has remarked that 'infidelity is the offspring of corrupt Christianity.' It is much more successful in the discovery of supposed arguments against the existence of the Deity of the Scriptures, in the perversion of that which is divine, than in its institution and appointed use. Voltaire chose the ruins of human nature, in their most perverted and blighted condition, and Volney chose the 'ruins' of human habitations, for the theater on which to display their mighty but evil genius. And they conjured forth the same evil spirit which had instigated or caused the ruin, in each case, to utter a false testimony, in reference both to ruined man and his ruined habitations. These men became the oracles of that falsehood to the world! But it was never the intention of God, that man, or the world fitted up for his habitation, should be in this ruined condition: it is the work of rebellion and sin!--of sin against the greatest displays of love and goodness that were possible, and against the purest and most reasonable law that could be given; of rebellion that was marked by contempt of the universal Sovereign, and of authority enforced by the lightest test of submission. And God has spoken to us, to inform us that he has made provision for the restoration of all men, and that it is his purpose to restore all who become interested in that provision, with the world now in ruins, to a condition which no history but the Bible has made known.
"Paine could rail and belie the supernaturalism of the Bible, like an incarnate demon, and then indorse all the supernaturalism of the most stupid pagan mythology, in his patriotic and poetic productions, which he published to the world. And that mind must be strangely out of balance naturally, or wretchedly perverted, which could bow to the authority of Volney's 'specter,' or Paine's paganism,--the pure creations of fictions and superstition,--and then reject the Bible because it demands faith in that which is not familiar to the senses.
"It is generally true that those who become decided skeptics take that most hopeless position, because they have become so depraved or perverted that they feel the want of an infidel theory to afford them a license and quiet, in their chosen course. It was not so with Mr. Miller. In the days of his greatest devotion to deistical sentiments, he desired something better. He had his difficulties with the Bible under its current interpretations, and he tells us what these difficulties were. But a man like him could never be made to believe it consistent or safe to abandon the Bible, unless something more worthy of his trust were first put in its place. And such a condition must secure to that matchless book a certain and permanent supremacy. This was Mr. Miller's safety.
"But if the poison which had infused its taint into the system did not appear as a loathsome blotch upon the surface, its victim was not only kept away from the sole remedy, but that remedy was treated by him with an afflicting and dangerous levity. This was now the painful feature of his case. Once it was not so. When he was a mere boy--'between the years of seven and ten'--as he tells us, a sense of the plague of his heart and of his lost condition caused the deepest concern in reference to his future prospects. He spent much time in trying to invent some plan whereby he might find acceptance with God. He tried the common and most natural course, in such a state of mind, that of being 'very good.' 'I will do nothing wrong, tell no lies, and obey my parents,' he thought. But his mind was still unsettled and unhappy.
"Good works are very proper, but they can never be accepted as the price of pardon and redemption. He thought, too, as all do in the same state of feeling, that something might be effected by sacrifice. 'I will give up the most cherished objects I possess.' But this also failed. There is only 'one offering' that can avail. In that, every sinner must rest his hope and plea, or remain without peace with God. The experience of Mr. Miller's childhood made him thoughtful and serious, if it did not result in the attainment of this inward sense of peace. Under his inward conflicts and apprehensions of worldly sorrow, when a young man (in 1803), he poured out his soul to 'religion' in this touching strain:--
"'Come, blest religion, with thy angel's face,
Dispel this gloom, and brighten all the place;
Drive this destructive passion from my breast;
Compose my sorrows, and restore my rest;
Show me the path that Christian heroes trod,
Wean me from earth, and raise my soul to God!'
"'Two things,' says D'Aubigne, 'are essential to sound Christian experience. The first is a knowledge of our condition as sinners; the second is a knowledge of the grace of God, in its manifestations to the soul.' Mr. Miller, like most if not all others, had learned the first in his early life; but he had evidently not then attained the second of these elements of a true religious life. And, by not attaining that important position in the process of deliverance from our fallen condition, he became wearied of a sense of his need, if he did not lose it entirely. In the chosen employment of his intellect, with a more ample supply of books at command; in the midst of an admiring and merry social circle; in receiving the honors of the world from the hand of his superiors, and in reaping an honorable portion of the treasures of the world, why should he desire any other source of enjoyment--and one altogether unknown, unappreciated and unpopular, in the circle where he moved? What use had he for that religion he had seen verified and felt the need of, in the less cultivated family circle at Low Hampton?
"If those who never become acquainted with the lessons of truth may be satisfied without the consolation of which its lessons speak, with those who are made familiar with these lessons, it is generally very different. They can seldom feel satisfied with themselves without making a hearty surrender of life, and all God has given them, to his service. As they know this is their reasonable service, anything short of this, they know, must be unreasonable. But how few take this narrow path! How many turn away to join the multitude! The talent, however, is in their hands. They must dispose of that, if they will not submit themselves to the disposal of its Giver. Some make it the reason for entertaining and venting a more malignant and blasphemous form of hatred against everything which bears the name of God. This quiets all fear of being reproached as religious, and it is the awful snare into which many are lead by the fear of man. Another class of these unfaithful recipients of the talent of truth try to get along with a popular external expression of respect for its claims; and thus they escape the dreaded reproach.
"A third class, naturally too frank even to appear to venerate what they do not heartily respect, and too deeply impressed with the goodness of the Deity to become blasphemers, but still too fearful of man to encounter his frown, seek to save themselves from it by making the defects of the humble but unpopular representatives of truth a subject of merriment. This course was taken by Mr. Miller. This is the class to which he then belonged. He banished from his memory the impressions of his early life, and must silence all fear of reproach on account of them; so he gave to his skeptical associates an assurance that he had mastered his superstition, as they deemed it, by performing, for their sport, the devotions of the worship to which he had been accustomed, and especially by mimicking the devotional peculiarities of some of his own family relatives.
"Among these pious relatives there were two, in particular, whose presence or names were calculated to remind him of his repudiated obligations, and whose influence over him he labored to repel, by making them the theme of his mirth. One of these was his grandfather Phelps, pastor of the Baptist church at Orwell; the other was his uncle, Elihu Miller, who was settled as the pastor of the Baptist church at Low Hampton, in 1812. These were men of unpolished exterior, but of decided character, strong voice, and ardent devotion. Men whose features were so strongly marked would make fine subjects for striking portraits; and if all their traits could be brought out, there would be found a large bestowment of the treasure of heavenly wisdom and virtue in the earthen vessels. It was the excellence of the heavenly traits, and the roughness of the earthly, which made them so desirable and so ready subjects of caricature.
"These humble ambassadors of Christ, and other pious relatives, often visited Mr. Miller's house at Poultney; and, although he received them with affection and respect, and entertained them in the most generous manner, he was in the habit of imitating, with the most ludicrous gravity, their words, tones of voice, gestures, fervency, and even the grief they might manifest for such as himself, to afford a kind of entertainment for his skeptical associates, which they seemed to enjoy with peculiar relish.
"Little did he then think that he was measuring to these faithful men what was to be measured to him again, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And probably it was not known to him that these praying men had already expressed the hope--almost a prophecy--that their prayers would be answered, and that he would some day be engaged in perpetuating the work they were endeavoring to advance.
"There was more than one heart that was almost inconsolably afflicted by this conduct of Mr. Miller. His mother knew of it, and it was as the bitterness of death to her. Some of his pious sisters witnessed, with tears, his improprieties. And when his mother spoke of the affliction to her father Phelps, he would console her by saying, 'Don't afflict yourself too deeply about William. There is something for him to do yet in the cause of God!'
"Although Mr. Miller avowed himself a deist, and was recognized as such by deists, this offense against all propriety, in trifling with what his dearest relatives regarded as most sacred, this thoughtless trifling with the humble messengers of the gospel was the darkest feature in his character. To him it was the most natural course which the circumstances of his position could suggest, and, undoubtedly, appeared to be the least violation of former convictions and educational proprieties which would allow him to stand as he did, in the favor and confidence of his unbelieving associates. He had not then become acquainted with the Source of strength by which he might have been sustained before the enemies of the Christian faith; he was unprepared to take the Christian position, and he became what the influence around him naturally determined. To give the true state of the case, the darker shades must appear with the lighter. He took the position of an unbeliever. But that he was not a deist of a rank type will appear more fully from his own statements.
"We have thus stated Mr. Miller's social and public position, his worldly prospects, and his religious state. The longsuffering of God was still to be exercised toward him. He was to become satisfied with the insufficiency of the world. Then the light which had become darkness was to be revived within him; the breath of life from God would disclose the all-sufficient portion, and he would go forth to build again the faith he had destroyed.
'Many were the prayers that ascended in his behalf; and some of those who were the most deeply interested for him would pass away before their prayers would be answered. But the great lessons of longsuffering, of faithfulness, and of the power to deliver out of the most artful snare of the adversary, would be the more magnified, on the part of God; the praying, who were yet alive, would hail the answer with greater joy, and the delivered one would be the better prepared to take others, in the same fearful condition, by the hand, and lead them to Him who came to seek and save the lost!"
William Miller received a captain's commission and entered the army in 1812. His biographer gives more than thirty pages relative to his military life, in which those whose hearts are fired by reading of victories gained by the use of carnal weapons can see much to admire in him as a patriotic soldier. But as our principal object is to bring him before the public as an intelligent Bible Christian, a bold soldier of Jesus Christ, and an able and sound expositor of the word of life, we pass over his military career, giving only one incident, which will be of interest to the Christian reader.
"A few reflections on this period of Mr. Miller's life and the mention of an incident or two of some interest, must close this chapter. Everybody is familiar with the fact that the army is a bad school of morality. Intemperance, licentiousness, gambling, fighting, stealing, profanity, and Sabbath-breaking, are the common vices of army life. It was the constant practice of these vices by those around him which sickened Mr. Miller of their society. And that he should escape entirely from the contamination would be too much to expect. However, it is both a matter of surprise, and highly creditable to him, that his moral integrity and habits were not affected to a hopeless extent. There were, however, some redeeming traits to the too generally dark moral picture of army life. There were a few men in the 30th regiment of infantry who were known as men of prayer and undoubted piety. And an incident in their history, which Mr. Miller has often spoken of with great interest, should be mentioned. One of these praying men, if memory has not failed in the case, was Sergeant Willey.
"His tent was occasionally used for the purpose of holding a prayer-meeting. On one of these occasions, when Mr. Miller was 'the officer for the day,' he saw a light in this tent, and, wishing to know what was going on, as his duty required, he drew near, and heard the voice of prayer. He said nothing at the time; but, the next day, on recollecting it, he thought it was a good opportunity to try the sergeant's piety, and indulge his own relish for a joke, by calling Sergeant Willey to account for having his tent occupied by a gambling party the night before. When the sergeant appeared, Captain Miller affected great seriousness, and spoke in a tone bordering on severity, as follows: 'You know, Sergeant Willey, that it is contrary to the army regulations to have any gambling in the tents at night. And I was very sorry to see your tent lit up for that purpose last night. We cannot have any gambling at such times. You must put a stop to it at once. I hope I shall not have to speak to you again about it!'
"The poor sergeant stood thunderstruck, for a moment, to hear such an imputation cast on him and his associates. And then, hardly daring to look up, he replied, with the most touching simplicity, and in a manner which showed that he was alike unwilling to suffer the scandal of entertaining gamblers, or to make a parade of his devotions, 'We were not gambling, sir!' Captain Miller was touched with his appearance. But, still affecting greater severity than at first, being determined to press him to a confession, he said to the sergeant, 'Yes, you were gambling! And it won't do! What else could you have your tent lighted up for, all the evening, if you were not gambling?'
"Sergeant Willey now felt himself under the necessity of being a little more explicit, and answered, in a manner deeply expressive of his grief and innocence, 'We were praying, sir.' Captain Miller, by this time, was almost in tears; and indicating, by a motion of his hand, that he was satisfied, and that the praying sergeant might withdraw, he continued alone for some time, sensibly affected by the courage manifested by these Christians in that ungodly camp, by the becoming deportment of their representative under such a serious scandal, and by the doubtful course he had taken in reference to them."
"One fact must be mentioned, which will speak more than volumes in behalf of his commanding integrity, as it shows the place he occupied in the respect and confidence of the soldiers. After the war, two members of his company, who lived as neighbors in the extreme northern part of Vermont, had some business difficulties, which grew to be so serious that they could hardly live together as neighbors on speaking terms, to say the least. This was a great affliction to themselves, as brother soldiers, to their families, and to the whole neighborhood. These men had often thought of their former captain, though they were much older than he was, and wished the difficulties could be submitted to his examination and decision. But it was a long way to his residence, and the time and cost of the journey seemed too much to admit of such an arrangement. However, the matter became a source of so much trouble that the proposition was made by one, and gladly accepted by the other, to visit Captain Miller; to submit the case to him, by telling each his own story, and to abide by his decision. The long journey was performed by these old soldier's separately, as duelists go to the place of single combat. They arrived at Captain Miller's nearly at the same time. Arrangements were made for a hearing. Each told his story. The decision was made known, after all the facts of the case had been duly considered. It was received in good faith by the parties. They took each other cordially by the hand, spent a little time with their captain, and returned to their homes in company, as friends and brothers.
"Paradoxical as it may appear, some of the most distinguished and honorable soldiers have been the most successful bloodless peace-makers, while, on the other hand, some of the most contemptible cowards, with peaceable pretensions always on their lips, have distinguished themselves by very little besides their successful contrivances to keep all engaged in war with whom they have had to do. Without claiming any special distinction for Mr. Miller on the score of what are styled brilliant achievements in the field of danger, the character of a great lover of peace belonged to him as a distinguishing personal trait. He delighted in peace, naturally; it is not known that he ever intentionally provoked a quarrel; and a considerable number of cases could be cited, in which he has been called to perform the office of a peace-maker, and in the duties of which he has been remarkably successful. But enough. More must be left unwritten than it would be practicable or necessary to write.
"The watchful Providence which guarded him in the hour of deadly peril; the longsuffering which spared him while neglecting the talents bestowed, or misusing them in rebellion against the Giver; and that wisdom and grace which overruled all the dangers experienced, and the derelictions practiced, as in many other persons of distinguished usefulness, demand our hearty adoration. The close of Mr. Miller's military life was to be the commencement of a new era in his history. The circumstances which preceded that change, the means and instrumentalities employed in its accomplishment, and the practical results which immediately followed in the circle of his acquaintance, must be left to another chapter."
The following, relative to Mr. Miller's connection with the army, we take from his "Apology and Defense," published in 1845:--
"In 1813, I received a captain's commission in the U. S. service, and continued in the army until peace was declared. While there, many occurrences served to weaken my confidence in the correctness of deistical principles. I was led frequently to compare this country to that of the children of Israel, before whom God drove out the inhabitants of their land. It seemed to me that the Supreme Being must have watched over the interests of this country in an especial manner, and delivered us from the hands of our enemies.
"I was particularly impressed with this view when I was in the battle of Plattsburg, when with 1,500 regulars, and about 4,000 volunteers, we defeated the British, who were 15,000 strong; we being also successful at the same time in an engagement with the British fleet on the lake. At the commencement of the battle, we looked upon our own defeat as almost certain, and yet we were victorious. So surprising a result against such odds did seem to me like the work of a mightier power than man."