All classes flocked to the meetings at Beethoven Hall. Rich and poor, high and low, ministers and laymen, were all, from various causes, anxious to hear for themselves the doctrine of the second advent. Many came, who, finding no room to stand, went away disappointed. The order of the meetings was simple. A short and pointed discourse was usually given, then liberty was granted for general exhortation. There was, as a rule, the most perfect stillness possible for so large a crowd. The Lord held the spirit of opposition in check while His servants explained the reasons of their faith. Sometimes the instrument was feeble, but the Spirit of God gave weight and power to His truth. The presence of the holy angels was felt in the assembly, and numbers were daily added to the little band of believers.
On one occasion, while Elder Stockman was preaching, Elder Brown, a Christian Baptist minister, whose name has been mentioned before in this narrative, was sitting in the desk listening to the sermon with intense interest. He became deeply moved, and suddenly his countenance grew pale as the dead, he reeled in his chair, and Elder Stockman caught him in his arms just as he was falling to the floor, and laid him on the sofa behind the desk, where he lay powerless until the discourse was finished.
He then arose, his face still pale, but shining with light from the Sun of Righteousness, and gave a very impressive testimony. He seemed to receive holy unction from above. He was usually slow of speech, with an earnest manner, entirely free from excitement. On this occasion his solemn, measured words carried with them a new power as he warned sinners and his brother ministers to put away unbelief, prejudice, and cold formality, and, like the noble Bereans, search the sacred writings, comparing scripture with scripture, to ascertain if these things were not true. He entreated the ministers present not to feel themselves injured by the direct and searching manner in which Elder Stockman had presented the solemn subject that interested all minds.
Said he: “We want to reach the people; we want sinners to be convicted and become truly repentant before it is too late for them to be saved, lest they shall take up the lamentation, ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ Brethren in the ministry say that our arrows hit them; will they please stand aside from between us and the people, and let us reach the hearts of sinners? If they make themselves a target for our aim, they have no reason to complain of the wounds they receive. Stand aside, brethren, and you will not get hit!”
He related his own experience with such simplicity and candor that many who had been greatly prejudiced were affected to tears. The Spirit of God was felt in his words and seen upon his countenance. With a holy exaltation he boldly declared that he had taken the word of God as his counselor, that his doubts had been swept away and his faith confirmed. With earnestness he invited his brother ministers, church members, sinners, and infidels to examine the Bible for themselves, and charged them to let no man turn them from the purpose of ascertaining what was the truth.
Elder Brown neither then nor afterward severed his connection with the Christian Baptist Church, but was looked upon with great respect by his people. When he had finished speaking, those who desired the prayers of the people of God were invited to rise. Hundreds responded to the call. The Holy Spirit rested upon the assembly. Heaven and earth seemed to approach each other. The meeting lasted until a late hour of the night. The power of the Lord was felt upon young, old, and middle-aged.
As we returned to our homes by various ways, a voice praising God would reach us from one direction, and, as if in response, voices from another and still another quarter shouted: “Glory to God, the Lord reigneth!” Men sought their homes with praises upon their lips, and the glad sound rang out upon the still night air. No one who attended these meetings can ever forget those scenes of deepest interest.
Those who sincerely love Jesus can appreciate the feelings of those who watched with the most intense longing for the coming of their Saviour. The point of expectation was nearing. The time when we hoped to meet Him was close at hand. We approached this hour with a calm solemnity. The true believers rested in a sweet communion with God—an earnest of the peace that was to be theirs in the bright hereafter. None who experienced this hope and trust can ever forget those precious hours of waiting.
Worldly business was for the most part laid aside for a few weeks. We carefully examined every thought and emotion of our hearts, as if upon our deathbeds and in a few hours to close our eyes forever upon earthly scenes. There was no making of “ascension robes” for the great event; we felt the need of internal evidence that we were prepared to meet Christ, and our white robes were purity of soul, character cleansed from sin by the atoning blood of our Saviour.
But the time of expectation passed. This was the first close test brought to bear upon those who believed and hoped that Jesus would come in the clouds of heaven. The disappointment of God’s waiting people was great. The scoffers were triumphant and won the weak and cowardly to their ranks. Some who had appeared to possess true faith seemed to have been influenced only by fear; and now their courage returned with the passing of the time, and they boldly united with the scoffers, declaring they had never been duped to really believe the doctrine of Miller, who was a mad fanatic. Others, naturally yielding or vacillating, quietly deserted the cause. I thought, If Christ had surely come, what would have become of those weak and changing ones? They professed to love and long for the coming of Jesus; but when He failed to appear, they seemed greatly relieved, and went back to a state of carelessness and disregard of true religion.
We were perplexed and disappointed, yet did not renounce our faith. Many still clung to the hope that Jesus would not long delay His coming; the word of the Lord was sure, it could not fail. We felt that we had done our duty, we had lived up to our precious faith; we were disappointed, but not discouraged. The signs of the times denoted that the end of all things was at hand; we must watch and hold ourselves in readiness for the coming of the Master at any time. We must wait with hope and trust, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together for instruction, encouragement, and comfort, that our light might shine forth into the darkness of the world.
Calculation of the time was so simple and plain that even children could understand it. From the date of the decree of the king of Persia, found in Ezra 7, which was given in 457 before Christ, the 2300 years of Daniel 8:14 must terminate with 1843. Accordingly we looked to the end of this year for the coming of the Lord. We were sadly disappointed when the year entirely passed away and the Saviour had not come.
It was not at first perceived that if the decree did not go forth at the beginning of the year 457 B.C., the 2300 years would not be completed at the close of 1843. But it was ascertained that the decree was given near the close of the year 457 B.C., and therefore the prophetic period must reach to the fall of the year 1844. Therefore the vision of time did not tarry, though it had seemed to do so. We learned to rest upon the language of the prophet. “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
God tested and proved His people by the passing of the time in 1843. The mistake made in reckoning the prophetic periods was not at once discovered even by learned men who opposed the views of those who were looking for Christ’s coming. Scholars declared that Mr. Miller was right in his calculation of the time, though they disputed him in regard to the event that would crown that period. But they, and the waiting people of God, were in a common error on the question of time.
We fully believe that God, in His wisdom, designed that His people should meet with a disappointment, which was well calculated to reveal hearts and develop the true characters of those who had professed to look for and rejoice in the coming of the Lord. Those who embraced the first angel’s message (see Revelation 14:6, 7) through fear of the wrath of God’s judgments, not because they loved the truth and desired an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, now appeared in their true light. They were among the first to ridicule the disappointed ones who sincerely longed for and loved the appearing of Jesus.
Those who had been disappointed were not long left in darkness; for in searching the prophetic periods with earnest prayer, the error was discovered, and the tracing of the prophetic pencil down through the tarrying time. In the joyful expectation of the coming of Christ the apparent tarrying of the vision had not been taken into account, and was a sad and unlooked-for surprise. Yet this very trial was necessary to develop and strengthen the sincere believers in the truth.
Our hopes now centered on the coming of the Lord in 1844. This was also the time for the message of the second angel, who, flying through the midst of heaven, cried: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city.” That message was first proclaimed by the servants of God in the summer of 1844. As a result, many left the fallen churches. In connection with this message the midnight cry [See Matthew 25:1-13 .] was given: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.” In every part of the land, light was given concerning this message, and the cry aroused thousands. It went from city to city, from village to village, and into the remote country regions. It reached the learned and talented, as well as the obscure and humble.
This was the happiest year of my life. My heart was full of glad expectation, but I felt great pity and anxiety for those who were in discouragement and had no hope in Jesus. We united, as a people, in earnest prayer for a true experience and the unmistakable evidence of our acceptance with God.
We needed great patience, for the scoffers were many. We were frequently greeted by scornful references to our former disappointment. “You have not gone up yet; when do you expect to go up?” and similar taunts were often vented upon us by our worldly acquaintances, and even by some professed Christians who accepted the Bible, yet failed to learn its great and important truths. Their blinded eyes seemed to see but a vague and distant meaning in the solemn warning, God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world,” and in the assurance that the saints will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air.
The orthodox churches used every means to prevent the belief in Christ’s soon coming from spreading. No liberty was granted in their meetings to those who dared mention a hope of the soon coming of Christ. Professed lovers of Jesus scornfully rejected the tidings that He whom they claimed as their best friend was soon to visit them. They were excited and angered against those who proclaimed the news of His coming, and who rejoiced that they should speedily behold Him in His glory.
Every moment seemed to me of the utmost importance. I felt that we were doing work for eternity and that the careless and uninterested were in the greatest peril. My faith was unclouded, and I appropriated to myself the precious promises of Jesus. He had said to His disciples: “Ask, and ye shall receive.” I firmly believed that whatever I asked in accordance with the will of God would certainly be granted to me. I sank in humility at the feet of Jesus, with my heart in harmony with His will.
I often visited families and engaged in earnest prayer with those who were oppressed by fears and despondency. My faith was so strong that I never doubted for a moment that God would answer my prayers, and without a single exception the blessing and peace of Jesus rested upon us in answer to our humble petitions, and the hearts of the despairing ones were made joyful by light and hope.
With diligent searching of heart and humble confessions we came prayerfully up to the time of expectation. Every morning we felt that it was our first work to secure the evidence that our lives were right before God. Our interest for one another increased; we prayed much with and for one another. We assembled in the orchards and groves to commune with God and to offer up our petitions to Him, feeling more fully in His presence when surrounded by His natural works. The joys of salvation were more necessary to us than our food and drink. If clouds obscured our minds, we dared not rest or sleep till they were swept away by the consciousness of our acceptance with the Lord.
My health was very poor, my lungs were seriously affected, and my voice failed. The Spirit of God often rested upon me with great power, and my frail body could scarcely endure the glory that flooded my soul. I seemed to breathe in the atmosphere of heaven, and rejoiced in the prospect of soon meeting my Redeemer and living forever in the light of His countenance.
The waiting people of God approached the hour when they fondly hoped their joys would be complete in the coming of the Saviour. But the time again passed unmarked by the advent of Jesus. It was hard to take up the cares of life that we thought had been laid down forever. It was a bitter disappointment that fell upon the little flock whose faith had been so strong and whose hope had been so high. But we were surprised that we felt so free in the Lord and were so strongly sustained by His strength and grace.
The experience of the former year was, however, repeated to a greater extent. A large class renounced their faith. Some, who had been very confident, were so deeply wounded in their pride that they felt like fleeing from the world. Like Jonah, they complained of God, and chose death rather than life. Those who had built their faith upon the evidence of others, and not upon the word of God, were now as ready to again change their views. The hypocrites, who had hoped to deceive the Lord as well as themselves with their counterfeit penitence and devotion, now felt relieved from impending danger, and openly opposed the cause they had lately professed to love.
The weak and the wicked united in declaring that there could be no more fears or expectations now. The time had passed, the Lord had not come, and the world would remain the same for thousands of years. This second great test revealed a mass of worthless drift that had been drawn into the strong current of the advent faith, and been borne along for a time with the true believers and earnest workers.
We were disappointed, but not disheartened. We resolved to submit patiently to the process of purifying that God deemed needful for us, and to wait with patient hope for the Saviour to redeem His tried and faithful ones.
We were firm in the belief that the preaching of definite time was of God. It was this that led men to search the Bible diligently, discovering truths they had not before perceived. Jonah was sent of God to proclaim in the streets of Nineveh that within forty days the city would be overthrown; but God accepted the humiliation of the Ninevites and extended their period of probation. Yet the message that Jonah brought was sent of God, and Nineveh was tested according to His will. The world looked upon our hope as a delusion, and our disappointment as its consequent failure.
The words of the Saviour in the parable of the wicked servant apply very forcibly to those who ridicule the near coming of the Son of man: “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.”
We found everywhere the scoffers whom Peter said should come in the last days, walking after their own lusts, and saying: “Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” But those who had looked for the coming of the Lord were not without comfort. They had obtained valuable knowledge in the searching of the word. The plan of salvation was plainer to their understanding. Every day they discovered new beauties in the sacred pages, and a wonderful harmony running through all, one scripture explaining another, and no word used in vain.
Our disappointment was not so great as that of the disciples. When the Son of man rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, they expected Him to be crowned king. The people flocked from all the region about, and cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” And when the priests and elders besought Jesus to still the multitude, He declared that if they should hold their peace even the stones would cry out, for prophecy must be fulfilled. Yet in a few days these very disciples saw their beloved Master, whom they believed would reign on David’s throne, stretched upon the cruel cross above the mocking, taunting Pharisees. Their high hopes were disappointed, and the darkness of death closed about them.
Yet Christ was true to His promises. Sweet was the consolation He gave His people, rich the reward of the true and faithful.
Mr. Miller and those who were in union with him supposed that the cleansing of the sanctuary spoken of in Daniel 8:14 meant the purifying of the earth by fire prior to its becoming the abode of the saints. This was to take place at the advent of Christ; therefore we looked for that event at the end of the 2300 days, or years. But after our disappointment the Scriptures were carefully searched with prayer and earnest thought, and after a period of suspense, light poured in upon our darkness; doubt and uncertainty were swept away.
Instead of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 referring to the purifying of the earth, it was now plain that it pointed to the closing work of our High Priest in heaven, the finishing of the atonement, and the preparing of the people to abide the day of His coming.
Chapter 7—My First Vision
It was not long after the passing of the time in 1844 that my first vision was given me. I was visiting a dear sister in Christ, whose heart was knit with mine; five of us, all women, were kneeling quietly at the family altar. While we were praying, the power of God came upon me as I had never felt it before. I seemed to be surrounded with light, and to be rising higher and higher from the earth. I turned to look for the advent people in the world, but could not find them, when a voice said to me: “Look again, and look a little higher.” At this I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the advent people were traveling toward the city. Behind them, at the beginning of the path, was a bright light which an angel told me was the midnight cry. This light shone all along the path, that their feet might not stumble. Jesus Himself went just before His people to lead them forward, and as long as they kept their eyes fixed on Him, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising His glorious right arm, from which came a light that waved over the advent band; and they shouted: “Alleluia!” Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 49-58
Discussion Questions — Day 5:
- Discuss some of the evidences of the Holy Spirit in the Millerite meetings.
- Why might we not have some of the same evidences today? What if we don’t? Should we?
- What would happen if we were to experience some of the same manifestations of the Spirit of God? What would some say? How might we avoid fanaticism?
- Have you ever experienced a revival like this? If so, when?
- If we are mostly influenced by fear to prepare for the coming of Jesus, what will likely be the result?
- What two things did the disappointed ones do that their light might shine into the dark world? How can we apply this principle in our lives?
- What was the error on calculating the 1843 time of the fulfillment of the 2300 years, commonly held by critics and believers alike?
- What purpose did this disappointment serve?
- How was the error discovered? What lessons can we learn in relating to disappointment in our lives?
- What prophetic message was preached in the summer of 1844 and to what result?
- Does your heart burn within you for a desire of Christ’s advent such as that held by early advent believers?
- Explain the great mistake in the great disappointment.
- Did Ellen ever prophesy that Jesus would return in 1844? When did she receive her first vision? Why is this important?
- What should shine all along our way to the Holy City? How can we heed this light and keep our eyes on Jesus now?