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Case by Casebolt: Was the Midnight Cry a “Glorious Light” from Christ?


“Case by Casebolt” is an ongoing series examining the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from William Miller.

In the first seven installments of this column, I reviewed several of the multiple "prophetic periods" promoted by William Miller. The eighth case described S. S. Snow’s new, improved, autumn version of Miller’s prediction with his exact date of October 22, 1844. Snow's August 22, 1844, article in his paper The True Midnight Cry gave his doctrine of the midnight cry. This ninth case gives personal background on S. S. Snow and examines Ellen White’s first vision, during which she claimed that Snow’s midnight cry was divine “glorious light” emanating directly from the “glorious right arm” of Jesus.

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." 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 as the “chosen one” to whom God gave special revelations:

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.

However, Miller's actual textual interpretations do not evidence a high-quality "understanding" of "prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people.” 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. William Miller was not the only person who Ellen Harmon thought received divine enlightenment regarding what she called the "prophetic periods" that all ended in 1844. She describes in her very first vision that Snow’s date-setting midnight cry movement was a “glorious light” originating directly from Jesus’s glorious right arm. This is how she sets the scene:

While praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell on me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the Advent people in the world, but could not find them—when a voice said to me, “Look again, and look a little higher.” At this I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were travelling to the City, which was at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry.

This paragraph from Ellen Harmon's initial vision clearly identifies the midnight cry as Snow's seventh-month movement. It was that "bright light set up behind them [the Millerites] at the first end of the path.” Namely, the phase of Millerism from about August 1844 to October 22, 1844. Ellen Harmon then continues. The bright light set up behind them is identified in her description as a "glorious light" originating from Christ's right arm. She asserts that Snow's midnight cry was a direct result of Christ's personal action. It is the same "light behind them.” Ellen Harmon's chief objective in her initial vision was polemical. She was warning doubting Millerites that if they denied the saving message of the midnight cry, they would suffer the fate of the "wicked world which God had rejected.” Conversely, she assured fellow believers in the midnight cry that they were on the path to heaven—still. Ellen Harmon continued:

Jesus would encourage them by raising his glorious right arm, and from his arm came a glorious light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted Hallelujah! Others rashly denied the light behind them, (like Wm. Miller did), and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected.

In Ellen Harmon's vision, the “glorious light” of the midnight cry originated visually from Christ’s right hand, but in terms of historical origins, its source was S. S. Snow. In essence, S. S. Snow was Christ's right-hand man. An examination of his qualifications is necessary before one can decide whether he is qualified to be an exegetical authority on eschatological topics.

Who was this S. S. Snow? Shockingly, for such a pivotal and seminal actor in the Millerite movement, he does not have an entry in the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. (My thumbnail sketch of Snow here relies on George R. Knight's Millennial Fever and the End of the World and the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists). We do know significant facts about his involvement in Millerism both before and after October 22, 1844. He was raised in the Congregational Church but says he had become a "hardened Infidel" by early adulthood. In 1839, his brother gave him a book by Miller. He read and reread the book for three months, during which he experienced a conversion experience, not to mere Christianity, in the words of C. S. Lewis, but to Millerism. According to the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, "He joined a Congregationalist church in the autumn of 1840 but some time later withdrew from it, finding it resistant to the Advent faith. In June 1842, while attending the Millerite camp meeting in East Kingston, New Hampshire, he decided to give himself completely to promoting the Second Advent message."

In December 1843, he was ordained as a Millerite preacher by a self-selected incipient group of Millerite clergy. Some had been clergy in other denominations but were defrocked or "come out of Babylon" on their own initiative. (At this point, Millerism took organizational measures to distinguish themselves from competing Protestant sects and to ensure that only “orthodox” Millerite itinerant preachers would be welcomed in their wayfaring ministries. To this point, anyone with any variant of Millerism could claim to be an orthodox teacher of the new faith.) Snow was a minor star in the Millerite constellation, with about the same luminosity as James White, for example. Below I include some parenthetical information on James White because of some of his shared characteristics with Snow and because both were major influences on Ellen Harmon. Both experienced a compulsion to become Millerite speakers very shortly after learning the Millerite doctrine. They transitioned rapidly from fresh, unlettered converts to authoritative spokespersons for Millerism.

(James White, like Snow, became an itinerant preacher without any formal education. He simply felt a compulsion to preach and started preaching. In September 1842, he heard Miller. The next month, he attended a Millerite camp meeting in Exeter, Maine, and became a self-proclaimed Millerite evangelist. From January to April 1843, he engaged in itinerant Millerite evangelism.  During this brief interval, he converted 1,000 people to Millerism. On his return to Palmyra, "the Christian Connexion ordained him to the ministry.” He had only "12 weeks of elementary school and 29 weeks beyond that."[1] His lack of training later became evident in his prediction that Christ would come in October 1845 with his four watches of the night hypothesis.[2] This level of exegetical training was common. Now imagine that there were 50 compulsive James Whites or Samuel Snows or William Foys, each making a thousand Millerite converts—and you have 50,000 Millerites. If it was not a case of the blind leading the blind, it was a case of the earnest naïve leading the naïve. Miller himself was a self-taught farmer. After he felt called to preach and did preach, he was ordained as a minister by Baptists.)

By February 1844, barely a couple of years after his conversion, Snow was writing authoritative missives explaining how the Millerite movement of 1843 and 1844 fulfilled biblical predictions of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk. He also was also in the process of supplanting Miller as the movement’s chief theoretician and chronologist. Snow's big idea was that whereas Miller used typology to prove that Jesus would come back by the spring of the Jewish year of 1843, Snow used typology to prove that he would return by the autumn of 1844, specifically October 22, 1844, according to Karaite reckoning. When Miller's prediction that Christ would return by March 21, 1844, failed, Snow eclipsed Miller by promulgating the midnight cry and October 22, 1844. He had become an instant expert concerning the second coming in the short five-year interval between 1839 and 1844.

Like Miller, Snow apparently had no formal training in Bible study. He knew no biblical languages and had no education in exegesis. He relied solely on his own self-education. The only exception to this was that he was greatly influenced by other self-taught Millerite preachers. Snow, like Miller, considered his lack of theological education a great advantage.

When Snow's prediction of October 22, 1844, failed, he became even more astounding in his self-evaluation. In 1845, he became convinced that he was Elijah the prophet and started publishing this claim in The True Day Star. His followers believed he had "been raised up and consecrated by the Holy Ghost," that the "blessed Spirit of God, guides him in the high and special work which is committed to him, of expounding the sacred Scriptures, for the infallible guidancy of the household of faith.” This is reminiscent of Ellen White’s devoted followers who also believed the Holy Spirit had raised her up as a definitive guide, an emanation of the Divine Mind. In his role as Elijah, he denounced Miller, Himes, Litch, Storrs, and "all others who rejected the October 22, date." This paralleled Ellen Harmon’s denunciation of all who rashly denied Snow’s midnight cry. Snow also denounced secular authorities, threatening them with "WAR, FAMINE, PESTILENCE, and DESTRUCTION," signing his missive "SAMUEL SHEFFIELD SNOW, Premier of KING JESUS.” According to differing accounts of two historians whom George Knight cites, Snow either ended his career as a type of cult leader or simply was insane. Knight suggests that both may be simultaneously true. Snow’s career before the Great Disappointment and after his October 22, 1844, prediction failed must both be considered in calculating his credibility.

Snow's "light" was rather like a meteorite. He flashed across the eschatological Millerite sky, confident in his ability to decipher biblical secrets that had been obscure for centuries. He briefly eclipsed Miller, and in his role as Elijah, denounced Miller for apostatizing, "rashly denying the light behind him.” Snow's midnight cry may have been a flash in the pan. However, it lasted long enough to act as a critical formative influence in the life and theology of Ellen G. White. It was her lifelong contention that the date October 22, 1844, was a critical date in salvation history, as it marked the initiation of the investigative judgment, a critical marker of identity for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, an examination of Snow’s dubious eisegesis, his failed results, and his bizarre later life demonstrates that his overall credibility is lacking.

No Man Knows the Day or Hour

White repeatedly charged those who did not accept the date-setting midnight cry as being insincere scoffers. From 1845 until her death, she insisted that God was “in” the seventh-month movement. Thus, she not only credited Miller with having been gifted with repeated divine guidance in interpreting the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation but she also credited Snow’s date-setting midnight cry as being identical to the divine light proceeding from the right arm of Jesus. Eventually, shut-door ex-Millerites would defend setting an exact date but claim that the event was different. However, until about October 6, 1844, the foremost Millerite preachers themselves explicitly and repeatedly repudiated the claim that an exact date could be biblically supported. For example, in the spring of 1844, Enoch Jacobs, the editor of The Western Midnight Cry!!!, stated: "No one now pretends to know the day and the hour."[3] In short, virtually all Millerites, except those Miller considered an unbalanced fringe minority, repudiated knowing an exact date until they were “enlightened” by S. S. Snow. So how can White justifiably insist that the light of God supported the October 22, 1844, date?

Again, on January 4, 1843, George Storrs, a prominent Millerite preacher and writer, scandalized the principal Millerite leaders by predicting April 13, 1843, as the exact day. Millerite leadership categorically repudiated fixing the day: "[Brothers] Miller, Himes, Litch, Hale, Fitch, Hawley, and other prominent lecturers must decidedly protest against the fixing the day or hour of the event. This we have done over and over again in our paper.” They argued: "There are several events, the anniversaries of which within the year, may be the end of time; but we wish to have it distinctly understood, that with the day or the month we have NOTHING TO DO [bold capital font original]." This is as clear a corporate repudiation of a specific day as one can imagine.[4] Miller, as commander in chief, protested that he had never fixed on anything other than the formula "sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844." He added: "I have never fixed on any month, day, or hour."[5]

Given that according to White’s initial vision, October 22, 1844, was a “glorious light” that proceeded from Jesus’s “glorious right arm,” she was a life-long supporter of this exact date even when there was no biblical exegetical support for holding this view. Rather, the only support for White’s interpretation of the midnight cry derived from eisegesis performed by people like S. S. Snow, Joseph Turner, O. R. L. Crosier, James White, and other shut-door ex-Millerites. The specific form of eisegesis that they used was allegorical-typological historicism. In my next column, I will review several of these specific biblical passages whose eisegetical interpretation is the foundation for Seventh-day Adventism’s unique doctrines.


Notes & References:

[1] Gerald Wheeler, James White: Innovator and Overcomer (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2003), 23-27. See also chapter 3 on the Christian Connexion's concept that even the most ignorant Christian had an absolute democratic right to promulgate whatever his spirit led him to proclaim.

[2] Donald Edward Casebolt, Father Miller’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022), 141-45.

[3] Enoch Jacobs, "Scriptural Test," March 23, 1844, 19. He was also Ellen Harmon’s first publisher.

[4] Editors, " The Time of the End," The Signs of the Times, January 4, 1843, 121-122.

[5] William Miller, "Letter from Wm. Miller," Signs of the Times, February 15, 1843, 169-177.



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: Millerite prophecy chart and drawing of S. S. Snow (public domain).

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