The following sermon* was preached by William Miller in 1842. The language clearly exhibits traits of the nineteenth century; the ideas, however, are solidly biblical, timeless, and echo both urgency and passion.—Editors
Let us take a view of the effects produced by the promulgation of this doctrine [of the second coming of Christ], and see how much evidence we have that it is of God.
First, wherever this subject has been presented to the people with any fairness, it has been invariably said, and you yourselves are witnesses, that it has produced a general reading and searching of the Bible; our enemies themselves being witnesses also. This cannot be called a bad effect.
Second, wherever this fruit has been seen, [“the searching of the Bible”], it has produced a complete revolution with a large majority of such in their faith and hope. And whereas some did not believe that Christ was ever coming again to the earth, or, if He [was], it was a great while yet to come, and of course there could be no such thing as watching for His return with such; now they are anxiously looking for His glorious appearing. This must have the happiest influence on the mind and life of every individual who thus believes. . . . Now they believe in the near approach of the resurrection, and the final union of all the saints, both which are in heaven and which are on the earth; and that the great Sabbath will be enjoyed as a day of rest, with all the children at home. There is a great difference between their former and present faith, as well as hope. And you can all judge which is most scriptural, and congenial with the Christian heart.
Third, there were many, very many, sleeping and slumbering over this important subject, of the coming of Christ, the judgment day, and the glorious reign. Now, in every part of the Christian world, the cry is being made, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him”; and the response is heard, “Come, tell us of these things.” And you, my brethren, are my witnesses, many of you, that hundreds—yea thousands—have been as it were chained to their seats for hours, silent as the tomb, to hear this subject discussed.
Fourth, in every place where this subject has been judiciously preached, and the necessity of repentance properly enforced, the sceptic, the deist, the universalist, the impenitent, and the careless of all classes, have been made by the power of the Spirit to see and feel their danger, and to seek for the forgiveness of their sins by repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of you, my brethren, can witness to the saving influence of preaching “the kingdom of God is at hand” as a motive to repentance, and to a godly life and conversation.
Fifth, we have the consolation of seeing many of our best ministers renouncing the doctrine of the temporal millennium, believing in the Second Advent as near at hand; and the kingdom of God in its glorified state about to be established on the ruins of the kingdoms of this world; the resurrection of the just, and judgment of the saints; the reign of Christ on the earth 1,000 years, then the resurrection of the wicked, and the finale, or close of the judgment. . . .
What has caused all this great movement to one point? Have our periodicals accomplished this? No, my brethren; five years ago, not an individual could be found who had moral courage enough to edit a paper advocating these doctrines. Have societies been formed to carry the news? No. Have missionaries been sent out by a board or sect [denomination]? No.
Have seminaries taught their students and sent them out to tell the church of the approach of her blessed Lord? No. What has revived and brought this soul-reviving news to the suffering children of God? Have wicked men? Our opponents dare not accuse us thus.
What then has moved the wheel that rolls this blessed sound, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh”? Is it Satan? Look at the effects, and tell me what object he could have in opposing his own kingdom. How inconsistent he must be to oppose his own children thus! See how angry they are, how it disturbs their ranks! Will Beelzebub cast out devils? . . .
The answer must be obvious; a child could tell us what: it is the Spirit and power of God. It is He who has promised “to do nothing but He will reveal His secret to His servants the prophets.” He can move upon the minds of His servants to read His Word. He can open it to their understandings. He can call them to publish it far and near. He can protect them from the anger of men, and the fowler’s snare. He will do His will on earth as in heaven, and no one can say, “Why doest thou thus?”
* * *
Now, let me address you in particular, my brethren in the gospel ministry, of every sect, who believe in the speedy coming of our Divine Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many of our fathers in the gospel have undoubtedly desired to see the day, which you now see is very nigh, but have fallen asleep in Christ and saw it not. For us who now live is reserved the most important period that man ever saw on earth: the time when these heavens and this earth are rolling together like a scroll, and the history of the world and the church are folding up for the judgment. . . .
My brethren, “can you not discern the signs of the times?”
Yes, I know many of you do. Then what a thrilling time! What a fearful period—and especially to those servants who may “say in their hearts, my Lord delayeth His coming,” or who “cry peace and safety when sudden destruction!”
Let us arouse ourselves, one and all, to the battle, not of blood, but of truth. Let us not mix with the divisions of the day in setting up men or measures, nor stop to contend who shall be greatest; but let our conversation be in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour.
Let us be like servants who wait for their Lord. If we believe we shall soon stand before the judgment seat of Christ, will it not prompt us to have our work done and well done, so that we be not ashamed before Him at His coming? If we believe the prophets, shall not our faith be manifested by our works? If we believe the midnight cry is being made, will we not show ourselves to be friends of the Bridegroom?
Can we behold the signs in the moral heavens gathering thick around us, and yet be unmoved at the sight? Do we behold the last plagues pouring upon this guilty world, and our warning voices not mingling in the blast? Is this the harvest home, and are we folding our hands to sleep?
* * *
Let us ask ourselves these solemn questions and answer them to God and our own souls without deceit. Shall we see some of our brethren moving on to the onset, receiving the darts of the scoffer, the shafts of the malignant, the arrows of the enemies, and we, through fear or cowardice, remain among the stuff?
No, my brethren, I am persuaded better things of you; if you have courage enough to avow your principles in this age of scoffers, you will have grace enough to protect you in the time of battle. Go on then to victory and glory. Bring in your whole strength to the field, give your enemies no advantage over you, put on the whole armor, be immovably fixed in this one thing, to stand whole nights on your watchtower, if need be; to show our love for God by our faithfulness in the work He has assigned us to do.
Let us manifest our love for souls, by our plain dealing in truth, and faithfully warning the wicked and impenitent of their danger. Let us take the Bible for our guide, and teach others the way of life.
Then, if Christ come, we shall be found ready; and if He does not come at the time which I believe is specified in the Bible, still there can be no harm done; for to watch for His coming is duty now, and it can be no less a duty then. . . .
I have often heard the whispered words, “God grant that it may be so.” I have often, very often, heard from a warm and animated heart, expressed by voice, the loud response, “Amen.” I have often felt, when retiring from the house of worship, the warm pressure of a hand, accompanied with a “God bless you, my brother.” I have received many written epistles, full of expressions of love and gratitude to God for the good news of a coming Saviour.
Need I say to such, watch, lest He come suddenly and find you sleeping? No. As well might I say to the loving mother, “Forget not your lovely babe.”
What shall I say? I will say, Rejoice; for now your salvation from all sin is drawing nigh. Keep the faith, and soon you will receive a crown which is laid up for all those who love His appearing. . . . Go on, my brethren, in well doing; encourage, I pray you, those dear servants who are willing to publish the news of a coming Saviour, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. You know how your souls were fed, and now will you feed others? Remember that those who are willing to preach this good news are many of them poor and persecuted servants; even their own sects treat them harshly, turn them from their doors, and shut their pulpits against them. And shall it be said in that glorious day, “As much as ye did it not unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me,” unto any of you? . . .
A word to those who, by reading or hearing the Lectures on the coming of the Son of man, have been convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment, and have fled for refuge to the blessed Saviour.
I would say, hold on by faith, let no man take your crown of rejoicing from you; are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? . . . The time is at hand. Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain: for God will bruise Satan under your feet shortly. I hope to meet you where sighing and sorrowing will be done away, where there will be no foes, where the last enemy, death, will be conquered, and the family of the redeemed meet in one general assembly.
Oh, there will be joy, and immortal life, when we shall meet again!
* * *
Therefore, let me persuade you to be faithful, even to the end. If any of you should feel your hearts grow cold, and relax from your duty, and have strong doubts of your interest in the kingdom, go to the Bible, pray for the Spirit of God to help you, examine this doctrine of the coming of Christ, the resurrection and judgment; if you are a child of God, you will love the doctrine; if you are not, you will hate it.
Whatever you may think of yourself, whatever doubts or fears you may have, your heart must be the thermometer on this subject; your affections, like quicksilver, will rise or fall as you come in contact with this glorious theme. If a man love Christ, he will love His appearing; if he hate Him, he will hate to see Him come. This rule cannot be broken. . . .
Let me pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. There is religion for you: it is free as the mountain brook, it is plenteous as the dew on mount Hermon, it is as rich as the fruits in autumn. There is “enough and to spare”; it is ever green as the foliage in the spring.
Why then perish? What reasons can you give for your rejection of Christ? He is the one whose day our fathers desired to see, and kings waited for. Prophets foretold His birth and declared His work from times of old. And will you not believe? Will you not hear Moses and the prophets, nor Christ and His disciples? Then in vain would it be for me to try to persuade you to get religion. . . .
Let me close by quoting to you the apostle Peter’s words, Acts 3:19-21: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive, until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
* This sermon was published in the booklet From Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843; Exhibited in a Course of Lectures (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1842). If you have courage enough to avow your principles in this age of scoffers, you will have grace enough to protect you in the time of battle.