Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Book Review: God’s Strange Work by David Rowe

God’s Strange Work by David Rowe is the interesting story of William Miller.  I have long been interested in William Miller.  After all, Seventh-Day Adventists and Adventism in general finds its roots in William Miller.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses also trace their roots back to William Miller in a round about way.  William Miller has had an impact on us living in 2014 although he has been dead since 1849.

I have also heard that William Miller was a false prophet.  He taught that Christ would return in 1843.  Miller become convinced that Christ would return in 1843 after studying the Bible and especially from Daniel 8:14.  He came to this conclusion in 1818 but continued to study the matter privately until 1823 when Miller begin to preach his new doctrine.  His teachings spread like wildfire.  Miller’s lectures became one of the most popular lectures to attend as thousands came out to hear his new teachings.  Miller was denounced by many evangelicals of his day but none dared to debate Miller publicly for Miller was known as a great public speaker.

What is interesting about this is fact that Miller came from such humbling beginnings.  Here was a man who served the United States in the War of 1812 against the British.  He served well but served as a deist.  He was converted to Christ in 1815 and begin to zealously study the Bible.  He had no formal theological education but read the Bible and prayed earnestly for the Lord to reveal His Word to him.  Miller also longed (as many day following the War of 1812) for the return of Christ.  The nation was in a state of corruption and depravity.  Miller longed for revival and for the second coming of Christ.

Miller did not believe, as some say, in the rapture of the Church.  He believed that Christ would return to earth in 1843 and establish His eternal kingdom.

What I found interesting reading Rowe’s book is that Miller was not a man given to extremes.  This was not a man who saw a vision of Christ returning or heard a voice.  Miller simply studied the Bible and came convinced that Jesus was coming back in 1843.  The rise of Dispensationalism was leading many in the 19th century to assess the biblical teaching about the return of Jesus Christ.  All Christians are convinced that Jesus will bodily return to earth (Hebrews 9:28).  Acts 1:11 establishes the fact that Jesus will return.  1 Corinthians 15:24-25 also establishes this fact.  Miller simply took the excitement of his age and looked to the Bible and using a math formula, he became convinced that Jesus would return in 1843.

Now what about Matthew 24:36?  Miller believed that we couldn’t know the day or the hour but he noted that the Lord said nothing about knowing the year.  Further, Miller noted that Daniel was able to read the book of Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2) and could figure out when the year was.  Why would the Lord do that for Daniel but not for His people today?

When Christ did not return in 1843, Miller was very sad and was going to abandon his theories but another brother convinced Miller that his calculating had been off just a little bit and so they came to the conclusion that the Lord would return in 1844.  This time a date was set: October 22, 1844.  Of course, Jesus did not return and this became known in Adventism as the Great Disappointment.  Many Adventists had sold their belongings, were in major debt, stopped working their farms, indulged in the flesh, etc. in expectation of the return of Christ.  With the day passing, many were in great disappointment over the fact that Jesus had failed to return.

Miller himself apologized for being wrong.  He never meant to deceive people and was sincere in his seeking to know the times of the Lord.  He died on December 20, 1849.

What do I make of Miller?  First, I don’t think he was a false prophet.  One could label him a false teacher since he violated Matthew 24:36.  However, I did appreciate Miller’s zeal for the return of Christ.  Few in our day concern themselves with the return of Jesus.  While I disagree with most of Miller’s views regarding the return of Christ (the exception being that Jesus will return bodily to earth), I appreciate that he longed for Christ to return and make all things right.

Secondly, Miller did preach the gospel at his meetings.  While his lectures focused on Daniel 8:14 and the end of the world, Miller always called people to repent of their sins.  He was a Calvinist in his views on salvation but was not a hyper-Calvinist (which was popular in his day).  Miller preached even more earnestly as 1843 approach that people should repent of their sins.  However, in error and anger, Miller and his Adventists begin to preach that Christ would return only for those who were looking for His return based on Matthew 25:1-13.

Thirdly, Miller was humble in his public acknowledgement that he was wrong about the return of Christ.  He repented of this and denied that we can know the date, year, or the hour when Christ would return.  He did not agree with the later Seventh-Day Adventists and their teaching that Christ did do something in 1844 and the so-called “Investigative Judgment.”  Miller also never accepted the Sabbath emphasis that later Seventh-Day Adventists stressed.

Lastly, should we denounce William Miller?  I think we should deny his teachings.  Miller was orthodox in all areas of theology but his views on the end times.  We would never have heard of William Miller had he never preached that Jesus would return in 1843.  Had Miller only preached that Jesus would return soon, he would be no different from others before him or after him who have preached that Jesus is coming soon.  From Dwight Pentecost to Hal Lindsey to John MacArthur, we have heard that Jesus is coming soon.  Lindsey seems to have speculated that Christ would return even before 1990 but I don’t hear people denouncing him.  Miller erred in preaching a year and that is why he is remembered.

I have no doubts that Miller will be among the faithful in heaven.  While he no doubt erred in his teachings regarding the return of Christ. he did preach the gospel and himself loved the biblical Jesus.

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