In his community, William Miller had been a leader of enemy forces to religion, up until the time of his startling conversion at age 34 in 1816. But this had not kept him from being respected by both those who agreed with him and those who did not. The transition from skepticism to faith included some months of church attendance, even though he continued to ridicule religion.
After his conversion, those who had once been his infidel friends were disappointed; but the fact that he had been on both sides of the struggle helped him to better know their strengths and weaknesses.
Soon after renouncing deism, he was asked how he knew there was a Saviour. He replied, “It is revealed in the Bible.” “But how do you know the Bible is true?” they asked. He was at first perplexed as to how to respond. He thought that if the Bible is a revelation of God, it must be consistent with itself, and all its parts must harmonize and be adapted to the understanding of human beings. His response, therefore, was, “Give me time, and I will harmonize all these apparent contradictions to my own satisfaction, or I will be a deist still.”
He then committed himself to a study of the Bible. Using only his Cruden’s Concordance, he began his journey through Scripture. He speaks of his study this way:
I determined to lay aside all my prepossessions, to thoroughly compare scripture with scripture, and to pursue its study in a regular and methodical manner. I commenced with Genesis, and read verse by verse, proceeding no faster than the meaner of the several passages should be so unfolded as to leave me free from embarrassment respecting any mysticisms or contradictions. Whenever I found anything obscure, my practice was to compare it with all collateral passages; and, by the help of Cruden, I examined all the texts of Scripture in which were found any of the prominent words contained in any obscure portion. Then, by letting every word have its proper bearing on the subject of the text, if my view of it harmonized with every collateral passage in the Bible, it ceased to be a difficulty.
In this way I pursued the study of the Bible, in my first perusal of it, for about two years, and was fully satisfied that it is its own interpreter. I found that, by a comparison of Scripture with history, all the prophecies, as far as they had been fulfilled, had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similitudes, etc., of the Bible, were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other portions of the Word; and, when thus explained, are to be literally understood in accordance with such explanation. I was thus satisfied that the Bible is a system of revealed truths. (Life of Miller, pages 47, 48.)
Miller developed the following 14 rules of interpretation with a scripture proof for each rule. Wouldn’t you agree that they are good rules?
Rules of interpretation:
1. Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible.
2. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by a diligent application and study.
3. Nothing revealed in Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering.
4. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influence; and, if you can form your theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in error.
5. Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself.
6. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables.
7. Visions are always mentioned as such.
8. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future things, times, and events.
9. Parables are used as caparisons to illustrate subjects, and must be explained in the same way as figures, by the subject and Bible.
10. Figures sometimes have two or more different significations. The right construction will harmonize with the Bible, and make good sense; other constructions will not.
11. If a word makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, t is to be understood literally; if not, figuratively.
12. To learn the meaning of a figure, trace the word through your Bible, and when you find it explained, substitute the explanation for the word used; and, if it makes good sense, you need not look further; if not, look again.
13. To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of a prophecy: If you find every word of the prophecy is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event.
14. The most important rule of all is, that you must have faith. (Life of Miller, pages 48-51.)
After careful search of the Scriptures for two years, William Miller speaks of his conclusions:
I was thus brought, in 1818, . . . to the solemn conclusion that in about twenty-five years from that time all the affairs of our present state would be wound up; that all its pride and power, pomp and vanity, wickedness and oppression, would come to an end; and that, in the place of the kingdoms of this world, the peaceful and long-desired kingdom of the Messiah would be established under the whole heaven. . . .
I need not speak of the joy that filled my heart in view of the delightful prospect, nor of the ardent longings of my soul for a participation in the joys of the redeemed. The Bible was now to me a new book. It was indeed a feast of reason; all that was dark, mystical or obscure, to me, in its teachings, had been dissipated from my mind before the clear light that now dawned from its sacred pages; and oh, how bright and glorious the truth appeared!
It would be 13 more years before Miller would publicly preach the second coming of Christ. In the meantime, he would serve in his community as justice of the peace, a respected citizen, husband, and father.
On May 7, 1987, several hundred documents were found that he prepared as a justice of the peace in Low Hampton. For more than 150 years these documents had been stored away in the upper attic of his home at Low Hampton, New York, only to be discovered on that date in an old barrel where they had safely rested for all those years.
But the story of William Miller is not his work as justice of the peace, important as that may have been to law and order in his community. For these 13 years he continued his study, resolving perplexities over difficult texts and continuing to have concern for the salvation of his family. He was getting a self-education in preaching for the future.
A conviction continued to grow that he had a personal duty to tell others what he found the Bible to teach of the nearness of Christ’s second coming. He spoke of it this way:
When I was about my business, it was continually ringing in my ears, God and tell the world of their danger. . . . I did all I could to avoid the conviction that anything was required of me; and I thought that by freely speaking of it to all, I should perform my duty, and that God would raise up the necessary instrumentality for the accomplishment of the work. I prayed that some minister might see the truth, and devote himself to its promulgation; but still it was impressed upon me, God and tell it to the world; their blood will I require at thy hand.
As he continued to personally speak with others about his convictions, he gained quite a bit of celebrity in his denomination in that area. Still, he refused to preach in public. It was during this time that Miller’s opinions became the topic of a great deal of comment among friends and neighbors, and even at some distance, and not all of the remarks were complimentary. Having heard that a physician in his neighborhood had said, “Esquire Miller . . . was a fine man and a good neighbor, but that was a monomaniac on the subject of the Advent,” Mr. Miller decided to let him prescribe for his case.
One of Miller’s children was sick one day, so he sent for the doctor, who, after prescribing for the child, noticed that Mr. Miller was very quiet in one corner. The doctor asked what ailed him. “Well, I hardly know, doctor. I want you to see what does, and prescribe for me.” The doctor felt his pulse and could not decide respecting his malady, and inquired what he supposed was his complain.
“Well,” said Mr. Miller, “I don’t know, but I may be a monomaniac; and I want you to examine me and see if I am so, and if so, cure me. Can you tell when a man is a monomaniac?” The doctor blushed and said he thought he could. Mr. Miller wished to know how. “Why,” said the doctor, “a monomaniac is rational in all subjects but one, and when you touch that particular subject, he will become raving.”
“Well,” said Mr. Miller, “I insist upon it that you see whether I am, in reality, a monomaniac; and if I am, you should prescribe for and cure me. You shall therefore sit down with me two hours while I present the subject of the Advent to you; and if I am a monomaniac, by that time you will discover it.”
The doctor was somewhat disconcerted; but Mr. Miller insisted, and told him he might charge for his time as in regular practice.
The doctor finally consented; and, at Mr. Miller’s request, opened the Bible and read from the eighth of Daniel. As he read along, Mr. Miller inquired what the animal symbols represented. The doctor applied them to Persia, Greece, and Rome, as Mr. Miller did.
Mr. Miller then inquired how long the vision of these empires was to be. “Twenty-three hundred days,” the doctor replied.
“What!” said Mr. Miller, “could those great empires could only 2300 literal days?”
“Why,” said the doctor, “those days are years, according to all commentators, and those kingdoms are to continue 2300 years.”
Mr. Miller then asked him to turn to the second of Daniel, and to the seventh, all of which he explained the same as Mr. Miller. He was then asked if he knew when the 2300 days would end. He did not know, as he could not tell when they commenced.
Mr. Miller told him to read the ninth of Daniel. He read till he came to the 21st verse when Daniel saw the man, Gabriel, whom he had seen in a vision. “In what vision?” Mr. Miller inquired.
“Why,” said the doctor, “in the vision of the eighth of Daniel. ‘Therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.'”
“He had now come, then, to make him understand that vision, had he?”
“Yes,” said the doctor.
“Well, 70 weeks are determined. What are those 70 weeks a part of?”
“Of the 2300 days.”
“Then, do they begin with the 2300 days?”
“Yes,” said the doctor.
“When did they end?”
“In A.D. 33.”
“Then how far would the 2300 extend after 33?”
The doctor subtracted 490 from 2300, and replied, “1810.”
“Why,” said he, “that is past.”
“But” said Mr. Miller, “there were 1810 from 33. In what year would that come?”
The doctor saw at once that the 33 should be added, and set down 33 and 1810; and, adding them, replied, “1843.” At this unexpected result, the doctor settled back in his chair and blushed, but immediately took his hat and left the house in a rage.
The next day he again called on Mr. Miller and looked as though he had been in the greatest mental agony.
“Why, Mr. Miller,” said he, “I am going to hell. I have not slept a wink since I was here yesterday. I have looked at the question in every light, and the vision must terminate in about A.D. 1843, and I am unprepared and must go to hell.”
Mr. Miller calmed him and pointed him to the ark of safety; and in about a week, calling each day on Mr. Miller, he found peace to his soul and went on his way, rejoicing, as great a monomaniac as Mr. Miller. He afterward acknowledged that, till he made the figures 1843, he had no idea of the result to which he was coming. (Life of Miller, pages 76-78.)