William Miller began his preaching reluctantly. He had no formal training and he was self-educated. But, having suffered a crisis of faith and having experienced the restoration of belief in a hand's-on God; this only gave his messege conviction.
The shortness of time until the End was the core of the witness work begun in the pulpit of local churches he'd been invited to preach in.
The messege was urgent, but, why would people listen? Why wouldn't a self-taught farmer seem more crackpot than prophet? Why hadn't the local congregation been teaching this warning all along? Why NOW?
It is important to consider who made up the receptive audience across America which would launch the largest Millennial movement in history.
America was largely settled by Puritans who believed in self-perfection seeking a shining City on the Hill where their righteousness would serve as a model of what Christianity was truly about. Mostly Calvinist in theology, the hardy individuals who braved a dangerous ocean voyage to face strange lands and stranger people (Native Americans) were what we today would categorize unblinkingly as FANATICS. Yet, should this seem too harsh a judgement, it should be said that the "civilized" nations were filled with religious zealots, fanatics, deeply committed men and women for whom every word of Scripture was as fresh as today's newspaper.
The very core of a Christian believer was full of vigilance in seeing significance and portents in world events. The last thousand plus+ years were one long prelude to the second Advent (or coming) of the promised Jesus Christ.
At first, historically, it was more waiting and self-perfecting than getting on with daily life above a subsistance level. After all, why build and expand if Jesus is going to blot it all out and whisk you away to heaven? But, daily life was an awful drudgery without letup. Families were weary and needed something more than the distant promise of better times ahead.
Kings and nations came and went with candidates named for Anti-Christ. Yet, each passed and nothing changed. The more things changed the more they remained the same. Gradually, civilization (in the hypnotic stupor of God-hunger) began attending to building a better life NOW rather than later.
The political machinery of state had never been idle. Rather, religion was a useful weapon to wield against one's enemy. It isn't difficult to get men to march to war if you promise them faithfully that God is on their side waiting to reward them immediately should they be struck down in battle.
The turmoil in society went from being when Christ would return to how to better one's self SO THAT in so doing you'd convert non-Christians and bring about the Second Coming.
This is a subtle difference and a great one at the same time!
The triggering mechanism went from being a passive searcher for signs of the end to becoming part of what triggers the end by bringing about those signs!
One manifestation of this "letting your light shine before men" was becoming "perfect" through example.
The trade routes to the east became blocked off by Muslims who charged high port fees to Christain ships. A way was sought to go around them by heading the other way. Columbus proved it could be done. A vast land for discovery had opened. Riches were rumored to be there for the taking. The spirit of competition drove nations and kings to immediately make a land grab.
One of the most practical methods of grabbing land and assuring it stayed "grabbed" is by making settlements.
Two groups of society were involved in settling America.
1.Investors with money, prestige and power eager to enlarge their riches by extending credit to whatever poor suckers might risk life and limb to carry out the feat of travel, settlement and harvest.
2.Down and out people who were society's misfits with no other avenue of self-betterment seeking opportunity and driven by a core religious zeal to create a Utopia that might bring about the 2nd Coming of Christ.
Thus, began American settlements.
The core population was hard-working zealots enflamed with righteous idealism willing to do by any means necessary what it took to show the world what Christian Perfection might achieve.
After manifest destiny (go where you want and do what you must) under God's direction enabled the holocaust against pagan "indians"; after cities were built and all criticism stifled; the debt load on Americans was more than most could bear. They owed, they owed big and they could not pay. The only resort was to declare INDEPENDANCE and sue for soverignty. The blow for Independance was mostly seeking forgiveness of debt by means of breech and high-handed posturing in righteous indignation. For those who held the mortgages it was an insufferable affront only remedied by saber and musket.
The American Revolution began and ended couched in glowing rhetoric that sucked God into whichever side could quote scripture most convincingly. Rivers of blood proved the cause was worth dying for. Paid in full.
The generations of children reared by Puritan immigrants were generations steeped in the King James Bible and the images of Armageddon. They had fought and died to cling to their City on the Hill aspirations and had won (by the grace of God) the independance to complete their work.
While the British were licking their wounds a need for healing commenced. Crops had to be planted and cities built.
Slave ships bringing "heathens" to America's shores enabled the expansion of the righteous Christian plantations. But, at the same time, a moral wound was struck in the conscience of thinking Christians which plagued their hearts with a sense of guilt.
Christians argued with fellow christians over the rightness and wrongness of owning another human being. Once again the Bible was invoked to make whatever point on whichever side could say it most convincingly.
After the War of 1812 and the British were set back again, the long road to Civil War began brewing as brother turned away from brother over many practical issues which unsettled them in light of their own Bill of Rights and the Freedom of Christ.
It is at this juncture we see what sort of men and women were sitting in the pews of local churches and what their mindset was which made them want to "pass Go" and simply get on with the business of Heaven!
Would it not be better for Christ to come now?
All it took was for the war hero and local constable, sheriff and prodigal returned to Christ preacher William Miller to demonstrate that it was so!
Imagine yourself sitting at the breakfast table in a house built with your own hands and the hard work of your children and neighbors and facing a long harvest in a time of civil unrest. Would you listen to a man who told you none of your so-called problems amounted to a hill of beans? Would you rather settle up and go straight to heaven instead?
What if this preacher, William Miller was right? What if all the churches of Christendom were really conspiring with Babylon the Great to keep mankind in Satan's darkness? Would not the very fact that many preachers were against this 2nd Advent prove which side they were really on??
The battle lines for the minds of American neo-Puritans was drawn in the sand.
What would you have to do to prepare for Armageddon's coming?
1.Break with the Babylonish churches of Christendom.
2.Tell everybody the messege that the End was Near.
3.Forget about worldly education, retirement, health conditions and debt.
4.Stay with those who believed as you did and kick anybody out who disagreed.
And so they did.
When the GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT came and went what was the result?
Think of it this way:
What if you worked very hard a long long time and saved every penny so that you could buy a plot of land that was guarenteed to produce more crops than you could eat or sell and that would result in you being very rich? What if you bought that land and planted and watered and tended despite the worst weather and insect infestation ever seen? What if the time of harvest came and the crops didn't come?
Would you pack up and leave right away? Or, would you blame yourself for doing something wrong and try to salvage your investment? Wouldn't you go back over everything you did and look for a flaw in YOUR own actions?
Psychologists have identified this aspect of the human reasoning and have a name for the flaw in the thinking which enables people to keep clinging to a bad idea or investment. They call it the SUNK COST fallacy.
Simply expressed it is this: I've put so much into this thing I can't back out now or I'll lose everything so far.
This is where the story continues......
Just as the settlers, Pilgrims and farmers could never go back to Britain to debt and ruin and could not give up on their land; they could not give up on the hope that Christ would return and reward their labors.
The Puritans-at-heart who had believed Miller's explanations tried to find the flaw in the reasonable prophecy which pointed to a date certain.
Many found it only to be proved wrong again and again.
Yet, as the enormous zeal of a thronging crowd dwindled down bit by bit through attrition; there were bullheaded hangers-on who would never give up or give in.
Each new explanation, theory, chart, apology and reworking of the dates split off more and more True Believers into sects, divisions and cults.
Among them: Seventh Day Adventists, International Bible Students and eventually: Jehovah's Witnesses.
That is where you and I come in!
The SUNK COST fallacy continued into our day.