The Midnight Cry

IN THE VERDANT ROLLING COUNTRY of southern New Hampshire lies the village of East Kingston, a small group of farmhouses spread out on a green carpet of grazing ground and farmland. The quietness and tranquillity are disturbed only occasionally by the rumble of a hurrying train.

Move back a hundred years. The same village is there, serene and inviting, far removed from the madding throng, yet easy of access by the cars, as the railroads were called. A mile north, and on the west side of the railroad stood a grove of tall hemlocks, a part of the forest primeval. What more ideal spot could be found for communion with God, for a camp meeting. So thought Ezekiel Hale, Jr., who was chairman of the committee created by the Boston conference to make plans for a camp meeting. Hale lived only a few miles south of East Kingston in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

He and his committee were ready to report without delay. They were men of action. That was a characteristic of the men of the Millerite movement. It is no mere play on words to say that a new movement arises in the world only when there are men of action who are determined to set something in motion. And a movement truly continues as such only so long as men of action constitute it and control it. After that it becomes simply one more static organization in the world. The committee created in the last week of May had a report ready on the ninth of June. We quote in part from that report:

"The principal object of the meeting is to awake sinners and purify Christians by giving the midnight cry, viz., to hold up the immediate coming of Christ to judge the world.

"We therefore inform all our Christian friends, by the permission of Divine Providence, that the meeting will be held at East Kingston, N. H., in a fine grove near the railroad, leading to Exeter. Commencing Tuesday, June 28, and continuing to July 5th, brethren and friends of the cause are affectionately invited to come and participate with us in this great feast of tabernacles, and bring their families and unconverted friends, with them.

"The object of the meeting is not controversy, the brethren and friends will understand that none will take part in public speaking except those who are believers in the second coming of Christ, near, even at the door." [142]

The notice of the camp meeting stated that those who were coming to stay on the grounds should bring their own bedding, that the cost of "board and lodging in tents" would be "$2 per week." However, the committee "recommended to churches and brethren to club together and provide for themselves." [143]

Special rates had been secured from the railroad. This may have reflected the business connections of Hale, the chairman. The fare from Boston or Lowell, each forty-four miles from East Kingston, was reduced to ninety cents. We wonder what the regular fare must have been, for those rates were high in terms of dollar values a hundred years ago. A man would need to work about a day in order to find the fare to go to the camp meeting from either of those cities.

The Millerites themselves fully realized that they were making an audacious move in calling a camp meeting. They had some misgivings whether it would be a success. The matter of the cost of transportation was only one factor, though a real one in those days when money was always scarce. But the sense of urgency that controlled these men made them ready to risk something in an endeavor to promote the movement.

But with all their faith and vision they scarcely could have pictured what actually happened. By stage, by horse and buggy, but mostly by train, people poured in literally by thousands. It is impossible to give an accurate figure, for the reports reveal that a hundred years ago there seemed to be about as wide a divergence of estimates of attendance as there are today when a great meeting is reported. The estimates ranged all the way from seven thousand to fifteen thousand, according to the reports in the papers. The Signs of the Times itself estimated "probably ten or fifteen thousand." [144]

It is true that the camp meeting idea was not a new one in 1842. Methodists and others had been conducting them for forty years, and the public was camp meeting minded. But those camp meetings had behind them the momentum of large, well-organized denominations. Millerism had behind it only the driving fervor of a small group of men.

A great many of those who attended returned to their own homes at night, for there were no accommodations to care for any such outpouring of the population. There were twenty-six large family tents pitched. Apparently it was the custom in those days at camp meetings for a church or for a group of families to use jointly a large tent. This could be conveniently subdivided as needed. The public services of those early camp meetings were generally conducted in the open. A rude platform was constructed for the speakers and benches for the congregation. Around the meeting area stood the wide circle of tents.

This, as nearly as we can reconstruct the picture, is the way in which the first Millerite camp meeting was held. What could be more inspiring than to listen to an exposition of the Word of God amid the solemn and silent forest, with the hemlock spires as nature's architectural contribution to a worshipful atmosphere? Overhead was the blue sky, the vast expanse of the heavens which the Millerite preachers devoutly believed was soon to be rolled back at the majestic appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In front of the speaker sat, for hours, the thousands who had come to hear Millerism preached.

The principal speaker was Miller himself, who gave the main course of lectures, though he was assisted by a large group of Millerite preachers. For eight days, from June 28 to July 5, the meetings were held. All New England was represented, and some were there from Canada. All the creeds were represented, too. In the report written by the secretary of this camp meeting, as is true of virtually all reports of Millerite meetings, special mention is made of the number converted to Christ. While New England in the 1840's was in many respects religious, yet there was also a very widespread skeptical element. There were many deists and infidels. From the ranks of these the Millerites always rejoiced to see conversions to God. Special mention is made of one man in attendance at the camp meeting who was a traveling agent for the leading infidel weekly, the Investigator. The secretary's report stated:

"He was convinced of the divine origin and truth of the Bible by reading William Miller's lectures, and soon brought to submit his heart to God. He is now a member of a Congregational church, and employed in lecturing on the coming of Christ in '43." [145]

It is not difficult to imagine how even a few such ardent converts mingled with the multitude at the camp meeting, would have a leavening influence in behalf of Millerism.

Nor was this traveling agent for the Investigator the only one present who had been converted by reading Millerite literature, for the secretary of the camp meeting remarked:

"Various and singular, in some cases, were the means by which individuals were brought to believe in the second advent doctrine; in one case an individual, with others, I believe, was led to embrace it by reading a part of a copy of the Signs of the Times, in which a parcel of tea was sent from the store." [146]

But while there was rejoicing over the conversion of the ungodly and of the infidel, the secretary records that the camp meeting had even a greater value than this: "The great amount of good was among the ministers and members of the church. Such searching of heart–such humiliation–such confessions the writer of this article never before witnessed." In other words, there was a revival among those who were professed members of various churches. We must not forget that while this was a Millerite camp meeting, Millerism was still very definitely an interchurch movement. Those who spoke from the platform had not divorced themselves from their pastoral or other connections with various denominations.

But the leaders of the movement were not content simply with one great gathering. This camp meeting had not ended before plans were laid for further meetings. They envisioned camp meetings being held all over New England, and beyond. And they envisioned something more–a great tent under which thousands could be seated, safely protected from the undue heat of the sun or from rain or storm. They saw that such a tent would have great possibilities as a place for holding a series of lectures in various cities where it might be difficult to secure a hall.

That would take a great deal of money, and truly loyal members of the movement were still relatively few in numbers and very far from rich. But it seems ever to be the case that for men possessed of a sense of duty to God, for men possessed of daring and faith, obstacles and difficulties are only a challenge to action. An offering was taken. The total was one thousand dollars. Viewing that as comparable to several thousand in our day, we have something of the measure of the genuineness of the interest and belief that the Millerites had in promoting their message to all men. The great tent was assured.

Apollos Hale well remarked in recording the East Kingston meeting, and particularly the large offering, that "the desire for the riches of this world gives place to the stronger desire to secure a title to the better country,– worldly hopes all fade under the brighter 'hope of the glory of God' soon to be revealed."

On the last morning of the camp meeting a singular and impressive service was held. Gathered in a large circle, each clasping the hand of the one beside him, stood the campers; in their midst a minister, reading a series of resolutions. These resolutions reaffirmed the conviction that the great day of the Lord might be expected in 1843, "that other meetings of the same character should be encouraged," "that the numerous and urgent calls from all parts of the land for lecturers demand that we should furnish such means as may be needed to sustain" such workers, and that wide circulation should be given to the second advent publications. The resolutions were fervently voted. Then Himes, who was superintendent of the meeting, made a few remarks, "and the circle dispersed to take breakfast."

Thus ended the first Millerite camp meeting. Well might the secretary say in writing up the report: "The holding of second advent camp meetings may be regarded as the commencement of a new era in the second advent cause."

Interchurch movements, which in our day have had such meager success in their endeavor to lift divergent groups to a higher plane of unity, might well ponder the phenomenon of Millerism. The gathering glory of the advent blinded the eyes of those men and women to sectarian differences. The confident belief that they were soon to be taken literally into the circle of heaven and the fellowship of the saints produced a spontaneous desire for fellowship here and immediately with all whom they believed would soon be with them in that better world.

The meeting was also a success in that it proved the value of the prophetic charts that had just been printed for the use of Millerite lecturers. The idea of the value of visual education is not new. The Millerites believed that they should carry out the inspired command: "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." Habakkuk 2:2.

Visitors to the camp meeting might forget much of what the speaker said, but they could hardly forget the vivid pictures that the chart presented. Here was visual education of the most graphic character. In the days ahead these charts were to be a distinguishing mark of the Millerite lecturers. They needed to do little more than hang up the chart in order to grip the interest of the audience and hold it throughout a lecture that might last anywhere from one to two hours.

A description of this first camp meeting would not be complete without the comment of the poet Whittier:

"Three or four years ago, on my way eastward, I spent an hour or two at a campground of the second advent in East Kingston. The spot was well chosen. A tall growth of pine and hemlock threw its melancholy shadow over the multitude, who were arranged upon rough seats of boards and logs. Several hundred–perhaps a thousand people–were present, and more were rapidly coming. Drawn about in a circle, forming a background of snowy whiteness to the dark masses of men and foliage, were the white tents, and back of them the provision stalls and cook shops. When I reached the ground, a hymn, the words of which I could not distinguish, was pealing through the dim aisles of the forest. I could readily perceive that it had its effect upon the multitude before me, kindling to higher intensity their already excited enthusiasm. The preachers were placed in a rude pulpit of rough boards, carpeted only by the dead forest leaves and flowers, and tasselled, not with silk and velvet, but with the green boughs of the sombre hemlocks around it. One of them followed the music in an earnest exhortation on the duty of preparing for the great event. Occasionally he was really eloquent, and his description of the last day had the ghastly distinctness of Anelli's painting of the End of the World. Suspended from the front of the rude pulpit were two broad sheets of canvas, upon one of which was the figure of a man, the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly of brass, the legs of iron, and feet of clay,–the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. On the other were depicted the wonders of the Apocalyptic vision–the beasts, the dragons, the scarlet woman seen by the seer of Patmos, Oriental types, figures, and mystic symbols, translated into staring Yankee realities, and exhibited like the beasts of a traveling menagerie. One horrible image, with its hideous heads and scaly caudal extremity, reminded me of the tremendous line of Milton, who, in speaking of the same evil dragon describes him as "'Swindging the scaly horrors of his folded tail.' [147]

"To an imaginative mind the scene was full of novel interest. The white circle of tents; the dim wood arches; the upturned, earnest faces; the loud voices of the speakers, burdened with the awful symbolic language of the Bible; the smoke from the fires, rising like incense,–carried me back to those days of primitive worship which tradition faintly whispers of, when on hilltops and in the shade of old woods Religion had her first altars, with every man for her priest and the whole universe for her temple." [148]

This camp meeting was not the first held by the Millerites in America. On June 21 in Harley, Lower Canada–as the southern portion of Canada was then described–a camp meeting was begun which lasted for a week. [149] Josiah Litch described the interest of the public as follows:

"Waves on waves of people have flowed in upon us, day after day, until our arena within the circle of the tents has been almost crowded with a living mass of beings, eagerly inquiring 'Watchman, what of the night? '...The mighty tide of influence in reference to this great question which I have spoken of in a former letter, is in no degree abated, but is rather increasing from day to day." [150]

It was at the time of these first camp meetings that Himes placed in the Signs of the Times the notice that those wishing lecturers to visit them to talk on the prophecies should send in their request to the editor. He explained that there are "new lecturers now entering the field, and we hope to be able to supply more of the numerous calls in future, than we have been able in time past. The South and West also must be visited." [151]

Two weeks later appeared a news item in the Signs to the effect that Charles Fitch was expected to go soon to Oberlin, Ohio, to give a course of lectures. Thus the movement was spreading to the West. [152]

Even lonely lighthouse keepers were not left without the light on the prophecies. A Joseph Howland, who was employed by the Government to carry oil to the lighthouses along the Atlantic coast, was a fervent Millerite who carried with him not only oil but Millerite literature. With every lighthouse keeper he left something to read. [153]

The strenuous program under which Miller himself was working at this time is best revealed in a letter he wrote to Himes from Low Hampton in midsummer:

"I am now at home, and my health is as good as I could expect, after so long and wearisome a tour as my last; not having enjoyed one day's repose since the first of March last. How the old frame has been supported I cannot tell, unless God by His special providence has interposed, as in the case of Moses. And it looks to me as astonishing that God should select so unworthy an instrument as myself to give the midnight cry." [154]

His growing confidence in the time element of his preaching and his longing to be ready for that great day are revealed further on in his letter:

"I am more and more confident in my expectation of beholding my Saviour face to face, if I am His, in 1843...I see by faith a smiling Son of God, in whom I have redemption by His blood, remittance of the past by grace. How can I tear? I love. Is this what our dear friends call perfection? I have it then; but not enough. I long, I hunger yet for more...Oh, I need much, to keep off anger, malice and revenge, and drive those hateful passions from my mind."

Miller's desire to drive anger and kindred passions from his breast, reflects the increasing conflicts in which he found himself with enemies of every kind, some of them wholly unscrupulous, who would defame both him and the movement.

While Miller was turning homeward for a much-deserved rest, Himes was journeying far northward to Bangor, Maine, for a second advent conference. During the time of the conference a number of ships put into the port. What an excellent opportunity to send to the four corners of the earth a knowledge of the prophecies! Loaded down with several thousand papers and tracts, those in attendance at the conference "visited every vessel." On one boat they were invited to give a discourse. The next "Sunday morning at 5 o'clock," Himes preached "on the deck of the schooner Martha Wood, from the second and seventh chapter of Daniel." His comment was, "I never preached to a more attentive audience." [155]

Five o'clock is a little early to be up preaching, but the Millerites took very literally the command that they should labor for God not only in season but out of season.

Returning from Bangor, Himes traveled by boat. "Although a little seasick," he put up his chart and discoursed on the prophecies for "an hour or two." Why should a man consult his feelings if he truly believed that he was a bearer of the last message to men, and they were willing to listen? So Himes reasoned.

No religious movement can hope to give full expression to its beliefs, its hopes, its feelings, without hymns. The Millerites realized this, and in the summer of 1842 the Signs of the Times carried this announcement:

"The Millennial Harp is now out, and will be published in a few days. Music of 72 pages, and the Millennial Musings, of 144 pages added, makes 216 pages." [156] These hymns are dominantly second advent hymns. Here is a typical stanza from one of them:

"How long, O Lord our Saviour,
Wilt Thou remain away?
Our hearts are growing weary
Of Thy so long delay.

O when shall come the moment
When, brighter far than morn,
The sunshine of Thy glory
Shall on Thy people dawn? "

Thus the Millerites poured forth in song their hopes and their longings for the advent as they looked forward to the bright day that they thought was almost upon them.