Part 3. Wolff and Miller
Amongst the many scholars and churchmen announcing the imminent return of Christ, two stand out above all the others. These were Dr. Joseph Wolff, the son of a Rabbi, who at the age of eleven left his home to study Christianity and who eventually embraced the Protestant faith, and William Miller, son of a captain in the American army at the time of the Revolution, who spent his life in detailed study of the Holy Bible.
Joseph Wolff became a Roman Catholic at an early age, much to the displeasure of his Jewish father, and travelled extensively under the protection of the Church until his independent though and free speech caused him to be labelled a heretic and incorrigible. As a result, he embraced the Protestant Faith while on a visit to England.
Wolff studied the Bible extensively, but especially the Book of Daniel and became firmly convinced that Christ's return was near at hand. To those that would doubt him, saying, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man", he would reply, "Did the Lord say that the day and hour should never be known? Did He not give us signs of the times, in order that we may know at least the approach of His coming...? Are we never to know that period, whilst He Himself exhorteth (us) not only to read Daniel the prophet but to understand him? And in that very Daniel where it is said that the words were shut up to the time of the end [which was the case in Wolff's time], and that 'many shall run to and fro' [a Hebrew expression for observing and thinking on that time], and 'knowledge' [regarding that time] shall be increased...." We would not be given the exact time of His coming but enough to know when it was approaching, and to be able to prepare for it as Noah was able to prepare the ark.
Wolff also commented on the popular system of interpretation (which he called misinterpretation) of the time in which the greater part of the church would ignore the plain sense of the Scripture, turning 'Jews' into 'Gentiles,' 'Jerusalem' into 'the church', 'the coming of the Lord' into 'progress of the missionary societies,' and understanding 'going up the mountain of the Lord's house' as signifying a 'grand class-meeting of Methodists.'
Wolff spent 24 years (from 1821 to 1845) travelling extensively with his message of the Return. In 1833 he came to America where he preached in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington the latter in the Congress Hall, at invitation of the Congress, all of the members being present. He was also able to address the governments of New Jersey and of Pennsylvania, at their requests.
Wolff suffered incredible hardship in bringing his message to the peoples of the world. He was starved, bastinadoed, sold as a slave, robbed and, three times, condemned to death. But all through his travels he declared his life safe under the protection not only of God Himself but of his Bible which he carried with him always.
The American, William Miller was probably the prime teacher of the Second Coming. From his mid thirties, when he discovered a deep faith in Jesus Christ, he studied the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. His studies convinced him that not only had the prophecies of Daniel and of Revelation been fulfilled, but that they had been fulfilled literally. This lead him to realize that he was living in 'the last days.'
Miller was fascinated by the chronology of the scriptures, the periods of time mentioned in various books of the Bible and this lead him to the belief that he could calculate the year of the Return. Two years of intensive study, ending in 1818, with the conclusion that Christ would return in about 25 years time. After a period of checking and preparation Miller finally gave the world his message in 1831.
Fifty years of age, and unaccustomed to public speaking, Miller's preaching was an amazing success. In every town he visited, scores, or even hundreds, of people were converted to his cause. Churches were thrown open to him and, eventually, he had so many invitations to speak that he had to start turning some of them down. He rarely asked for any payment for what he was doing, supporting himself from the income from his small farm, though eventually this was not sufficient to support his expenses.
Two years after he started preaching, the star fall of 1833 added extra impetus to his work, as did the fulfillment of a prediction (based on prophesies in Revelation 9) by another minister, Josiah Litch, that the Ottoman empire was about to fall. This brought many academics and prominent people into Miller's following.
Inevitably Miller also made many enemies and at one time there was even an attempt on his life. He was ridiculed in the press and many churches turned against him. But throughout all these trials he remained steadfast in his conviction that the year of the Return would be 1844.