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Case by Casebolt: The Midnight Cry


In the first six installments of this column, I have reviewed several of the multiple "prophetic periods" promoted by William Miller.

As this series has repeatedly emphasized, Ellen White was convinced that Miller had special divine guidance that resulted in an explosion in Millerite understanding of "the last days." As a result, Miller claimed to discover 15 mathematical proofs that the end would come in 1843. In 1843, Miller stated his thesis in one sentence: "Time proved in Fifteen Different Ways." "These several [15] ways of prophetic chronology prove the end in 1843."[1] He had so many proofs that he had difficulty persuading his editors to include any more than four or five at any one time. All 15 of them would not fit in the 1843 Millerite chart. Ellen White describes Miller's views:

I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people.[2]

However, Miller's actual textual interpretations do not evidence a high-quality "understanding" of "prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people." And William Miller was not the only person that Ellen Harmon thought received divine enlightenment regarding what she called the "prophetic periods" that all ended in 1844. Miller's prediction that the second coming could happen no later than March 21, 1844, failed, and chaos filled the Millerite movement. Miller began to lose control of Millerism. S. S. Snow started to overshadow him.

Snow's August 22, 1844, article in his paper The True Midnight Cry gave his doctrine of the midnight cry.[3] Ellen Harmon became captivated by this doctrine, which offered apparent mathematical certainty. Thus, it was not surprising that her initial vision asserted that Snow's midnight cry was a divine "light" shining along her steep climb to heaven. She further asserted that anyone who doubted Snow's dogma of the midnight cry would fall off the path to heaven into the wicked world below where they would suffer the fate of that wicked world.

And just what was this midnight cry? It had five main elements. First, it contained a full-throated, unabashed refutation that when Christ said no man could know the day or hour, this meant that the wise Millerites must know the exact day. In short, blatant date-setting with 15 biblical texts to support this assertion. However, none of these texts remotely supports the "definite time" speculations of Snow. Second, the midnight cry contained Miller's Millennial Sabbath or Six Thousand Year speculation that I discussed in a previous installment. As Snow wrote: "The period of time allotted for this world, in its present state, is 6000 years, at the termination of which commences the great millennial Sabbath, spoken of in Rev. xx" that will be marked by the physical appearance of Christ and the "first Resurrection." He follows Miller's 4157 BC date and contradicts Ussher's date of 4004 BC for the creation. Third, Snow upholds the "Seven Times of the Gentiles" as an authentic prophetic period of 2,520 years. (Review my first installment for Uriah Smith's and most present Adventist commentators' refutation that it was an actual prophetic period). He stresses that this prophetic period must have started in the autumn of 677 BC with the invasion of Esarhaddon. Since Christ had failed to come in the spring of 1844 (March 21, 1844), a major concern of Snow's throughout was to prove an exact autumn date. He did the same thing for the 6,000-year Millennial Sabbath speculation, stating that creation must have happened in the autumn because this was the only time when fruit would be ripe for Adam's consumption! 

(As an aside, I have received reader feedback contending that because Ellen White did not explicitly say something like, "The 2520-year Seven Times of the Gentiles is an accurate and authentic prophetic period," it must be rejected as a prophetic period—even though it appears in her personally curated 1851 chart.)

Fourth, Snow insisted that the 2,300 day-year prophetic interval must have started in the autumn of 457 BC. This explained the failure of Miller's spring prediction for March 21, 1844. According to Snow, the royal decree to build the street and the walls may have been "first issued" prior to the fall, but it took some time to be "carried into execution." Since the decree was not "carried into execution" until the autumn of 457 BC, the 2,300 years must "reach to the autumn of A. D. 1844."

Snow's remaining arguments included the 70 weeks and the types. His focus in both is to establish that these also pointed to the autumn of 1844, or the seventh month of the Jewish year according to Karaite reckoning. The jubilee prophetic period I discussed in installment five is part of his supporting argument. He intertwines his 2,300-year calculation with his jubilee theory, stating that on the "tenth day of the seventh month of the year of jubilee; and that is the present year, 1844," Christ would come. He hammered the fact that "God is an exact time keeper." He insisted that all who are "not willingly blind must see" that all past types had been fulfilled exactly and all those to be fulfilled "will be fulfilled with an equally strict regard to time." Ellen Harmon adopted Snow's same attitude—anyone who could not see his point must be "willingly blind." It followed logically that their fate was outside the "shut door." Snow also asserted that some events had been fulfilled to the day and hour. Therefore, he could—must—calculate the Parousia to the exact date: October 22, 1844! He finished his exposition:  "If they hear not MOSES and the PROPHETS, neither will they be persuaded although one arose from the dead." Snow's absolute certainty (and all the texts he adduced), combined with her out-of-body experiences, totally convinced Ellen Harmon that Snow's midnight cry was divine light.

However, what is the evidence that Snow's midnight cry was divine light? His central thesis was that he could predict the exact day of the Parousia. His second paragraph contains 15 scriptural citations that he believed supported his thesis. However, they do not. Even members of the Adventist Theological Society and the Biblical Research Institute would find it a Herculean task to defend Snow's actual exegesis. Snow, like Miller, imagined that he was providing a literal, commonsense interpretation of scripture. However, as I have argued in this series, they clearly did not. This is the Achilles' heel of Seventh-day Adventist historiography and theology.

Without Miller, there would have been no Snow—and no Ellen Harmon. Without Miller and Snow, Snow's midnight cry would not have been written. Without Snow's midnight cry, Ellen Harmon would never have seen the light from the midnight cry in her initial vision. Without her initial visions, in addition to her later statement that O. R. L. Crosier received the "true light" from God, the shut-door, proto-Seventh-day Adventist faction of the disappointed Millerites would likely never have evolved into the Seventh-day Adventist Church with its unique dogma of the investigative judgment. Miller had inherited the hoary legacy of historicism and passed it on to Snow, James White, Joseph Turner, O. R. L. Crosier, and, most critically, Ellen Harmon White.


Notes & References:

[1] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism (Sigtuna, Sweden: Datem Publishing, 1990), 91–94.

[2] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1858), 1:128.

[3] A PDF file originally published by E. Hall, Jr. of Haverhill, MS, on August 22, 1844, is easily attainable online.


Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard University at Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He recently published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White. A second book, Father Miller’s Daughter, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.

Title image: William Miller and prophecy chart / drawing of S. S. Snow (public domain).

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