A Higher Standard

TimeWatch Editorial
January 24, 2017

According to Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, in their work entitled “Memoirs of William Miller,” Miller was born February 15th, A. D. 1782. He was the eldest of sixteen children, five of whom were sons and eleven were daughters. His family was not wealthy. In fact, his hope to acquire an education was met with many challenges.

“He possessed a strong physical constitution, an active and naturally well developed intellect, and an irreproachable moral character. He had appropriated to his use and amusement the small stock of literature afforded by the family, while a child. He had enjoyed the limited advantages of the district school but a few years, before it was generally admitted that his attainments exceeded those of the teachers usually employed. He had drunk in the inspiration of the natural world around him, and of the most exciting events in his country's history. His imagination had been quickened, and his heart warmed, by the adventures and gallantries of fiction, and his intellect enriched by history. And some of his earliest efforts with the pen, as well as the testimony of his associates, show that his mind and heart were ennobled by the lessons, if not by the spirit and power, of religion.” Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, “Memoirs of William Miller,” 1853, page 15

In other words, William Miller was not blessed with the advantages of “higher education.” This did not, however dampen his enthusiasm for knowledge, in fact, Sylvester Bliss and Joshua Himes wonder what would have been the result if he had received that kind of education. Listen to what they say:

“What, now, would have been the effect of what is called a regular course of education? Would it have perverted him, as it has thousands? Or would it have made him instrumental of greater good in the cause of God? Would it have performed its appropriate work, that of disciplining, enlarging, and furnishing the mind, leaving unimpaired by the process its natural energies, its sense of self-dependence as to man, and its sense of dependence and accountability as to God? Or would it have placed him in the crowded ranks of those who are content to share in the honor of repeating the twaddle, true or false, which passes for truth in the school or sect which has "made them what they are? We think it would have been difficult to pervert him; but where so many who have been regarded as highly promising have been marred by the operation, he would have been in great danger.” Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, “Memoirs of William Miller,” 1853, page 16

Bliss and Himes are therefore convinced that his lack of formal preparation was a great advantage for him. This isolation allowed him to develop a pure vision of truth and an understanding that was driven by much higher leadership than he would have acquired in the existing institutions of learning. They then continue to describe three types of students who graduate from these institutions.

  1. There are those who survive the regular course uninjured.
  2. There are those who are benefited by it so far as to be raised to a level with people of ordinary capacity, which they never could attain without special aid. And
  3. There is a third class, who are a stereotype representation of what the course makes them: if they raise a fellow-man out of the mire, they never get him nearer to heaven than the school where they were educated. .” Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, “Memoirs of William Miller,”1853, page 16

William Miller had, in spite of his lack of a formal education, distinguished himself among his peers. Notice the following.

“To the young folks, he became a sort of scribbler-general. If anyone wanted "verses made," a letter to send, some ornamental and symbolic design to be interpreted by "the tender passion," or anything which required extra taste and fancy in the use of the pen, it was pretty sure to be planned, if not executed by him. Some of these first-fruits of his genius are still in existence; and, although it requires no critic to discover that he had never received lessons of any of the "great masters," still these productions would compare very favorably with similar efforts by those whose advantages have been far superior to his.” Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, “Memoirs of William Miller,” 1853, page 18

This view of William Miller provides a clear vision of the power and planning of the God of Heaven and Earth. The sort of preparation that God does is beyond our human capacity to grasp. Christianity Today, in its treatment of Denominational Founders, describes Miller as A former captain in the War of 1812, Miller converted from Deism in 1816. Excited, he began to "search the Scriptures" for the truth. After two years he was convinced he understood them—especially Daniel 8:14: "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed."

Although, as we shall see in later Editorials, his theological growth and development is without doubt the purpose of his calling, his early life speaks volumes regarding the necessary preparation for his mission. As Bliss and Himes say:


“The facts connected with the early life of Mr. William Miller, and the incidents in his personal history, now spread before the readers of this work, will enable them to see, in the boy, a type of the future man. The most embarrassing circumstances of his condition could not master his perseverance. And if he could not accomplish all he desired to, the success which attended his efforts, in spite of great discouragements, was truly surprising. The position he had won opened to him a fairer prospect, though still surrounded with serious dangers. But the features of the next step in his history must be the subject of another chapter.”
Sylvester Bliss and Joshua V. Himes, “Memoirs of William Miller,” 1853, page 18

We will continue in our next Editorial.

Cameron A. Bowen

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