If you google around on the web under "Millerite" or "William Miller" you are likely to get something waffly like this:

Millerite. A follower of William Miller (1782 - 1849), who taught that the coming of Christ was at hand.
Which is like describing a Catholic as:
Catholic: A follower of The Pope, who taught that there is a god.
Actually Millerites were far more interesting and specific than that. Additionally, they were provably wrong, which has the novelty of being unusual, as most religions seem to be far more careful about the predictions they make or prophecies they publicly subscribe to.

In short, the Millerites believed not only that Christ's advent was nigh (a belief shared by most evangelical Christian faiths), they also believed that they knew when it would happen. Based on the Biblical prophecy idea of a year for a day, and counting forward from a "known" date in Old Testament book of Daniel, Miller had come to the conclusion that Christ would make his triumphal return, in his words "in about 1843".

Like all faulty logic, if you accept the initial errors, it is easy to come to the same erroneous conclusion. If you follow Miller's line of reasoning , and accept that the "sanctuary being cleansed" is a metaphor for the second coming, then his selected date certainly appears to be significant.

Naturally (from the POV of this writing!), on the first dates selected (between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844), Jesus was a no-show. Miller, and the Millerites lost an enormous amount of credibility. But they were not to be put off by something as insignificant as being totally wrong! They went back to their Bibles, and tried again. Lo and behold, and fortunately for the true believers there had been a mathematical error! A new date was found, and there is some controversy about if it was selected by Miller himself or by an acolyte. Controversy notwithstanding, it was soon the position of the entire Millerite movement that since Jesus was a Jew, he would probably return at the end of the Jewish year on October 22, 1844.

Any account of that day will fail to capture the enormity of what occurred for several reasons: because no-one thought to keep accurate numbers of the people who left their crops in the fields, their shops unattended, and congregated in groups all over New England and upstate New York to wait for the Lord; the newspapers who reported on the event were full of ridicule; and those involved were often actively trying to forget. At the time, there were more than fifty thousand people on the church roll of the Millerite movement, along with 200 preachers with the best fire and brimstone they could muster. So imagine, if you will, those 50,000 believers begging, pleading, coaxing and using threats to get their friends and loved ones to come with them to "the last church meeting ever"! And then there would have been those that went to point and laugh, those that went because they saw others going, and those that saw a group standing and singing gospel songs and decided to wander over.

Any way that you do those numbers, there must have been between a quarter of a million and half a million people standing in groups waiting to see a small black cloud the size of a man's hand. They stood there all day. And nothing happened. It came to be known, with some understatement, as "The Great Disappointment of 1844" and spawned at least one religion from the ashes, the Seventh-Day Adventist church.

As for Miller and the Millerites, they carried on, greatly reduced in numbers of course. Miller did lecture tours challenging theologians to point out where, exactly, he had gone wrong. It wasn't hard, in the Millerite spirit of "the Bible explains itself" to find 1 Thessalonians 5:4,9-10 "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night". The movement did not survive Miller's death in 1849.

† How they got there: The German Lutheran theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687 - 1752), was the first to propose Heilsgeschichte - the theology of salvation history. Bengel felt he could predict the date of the end, which he said would occur about 1836. Bengel's work is held by many to have influenced John Wesley. In the early eighteenth century it was commonly believed by theologians that the 1260 days (years) of papal supremacy ended in the 1790s (from Daniel 7). As soon as the 1790s rolled around, there was a shift from Daniel 7 to Daniel 8 and the 2300 days mentioned in that chapter.

Some of the more prominent names to lend their weight to the growing apocalyptic fervour of the early 1800s included:

So Miller and the Millerites were not alone, but were rather an American version of the above gentlemen's congregations, and they fed into and from the zeitgeist. It has been reported that Miller became very wealthy from his speaking engagements, and from offerings collected in Millerite churches, but this author could not verify that claim.


Mil"ler*ite (?), n.

A believer in the doctrine of William Miller (d. 1849), who taught that the end of the world and the second coming of Christ were at hand.


© Webster 1913.

Mil"ler*ite, n. [From W. H. Miller, of Cambridge, Eng.] Min.

A sulphide of nickel, commonly occurring in delicate capillary crystals, also in incrustations of a bronze yellow; -- sometimes called hair pyrites.


© Webster 1913.

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