Days of Delusion - A Strange Bit of History


By Clara Endicott Sears, 1924

And Elder Himes? - that complex character, that indefatigable revivalist - what was his end? Well, after publishing newspapers, tracts, books, and pamphlets full of exhortations to the Brethren to stand firm in their faith and to continue to watch without ceasing for the signs of the End for upwards of thirty years, he suddenly renounced the doctrine which he had been so instrumental in spreading and took orders as a clergyman of the Episcopal Church. Without warning he turned the kaleidoscope of Fate and found himself in a new field, with a new outlook and another doctrine, the preaching of which opened up new outlets for his super-nervous energies.

All this happened in 1880, when on January 9th he was ordained by Bishop Clarkson, of Nebraska, and was assigned the rectorship of St. Andrew's Church, in the little town of Elk Point, South Dakota, which even in 1900, when the last census was taken, then boasted of only 1081 inhabitants.

Through the courtesy of a friend who communicated with the Reverend Dr. Woodruff, Dean of Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who kindly searched the files for information regarding the former Elder Himes in his new position as an Episcopal clergyman, the author was able to secure a few details regarding the end of this versatile man, which under the circumstances are not without interest.

"I have discovered a unique character," wrote Dean Woodruff, "but have found nothing of his history before he came to South Dakota."

So evidently in these new surroundings the Reverend Joshua V. Himes escaped at last from the gibes and ridicule incurred by the failure of the prophecy to which he and the followers of William Miller had been so long subjected.

An extract from an appeal he made to his congregation at the age of eighty-five, in behalf of an effort to build a new church, shows that his energy was still unabated at that advanced age:

"I cannot speak as a young man, for I am old," he declared; "but like Joshua the Son of Nun, with an undimmed eye and vigorous natural force, the best of health, with vigor of body and mind to carry out any work of my mission under the direction of my good Bishop, in what remains of mortal life, I am looking for five years of good work by the permission of the Author and Giver of life, and will then, at ninety, if God do order it, say, 'Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.'" He did live those five years and two months over, for he was born May 19, 1805, and died July 27, 1895.

In referring to him after his death on his Convention Address, in 1895, Bishop Hare said of him: "Until a few months before him demise, in his ninety-first year, he still merited the epithet which I applied to him in his eighty-five year: 'At eighty-five years of age, he fights the battle of the Church with the gallantry of the stripling David, and preaches the Gospel with the power of a youthful Stephen.'"

He is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, instead of Elk Point, because the cemetery in Sioux Falls is set on a hill, and he asked Bishop Hare to get a lot for him on this elevated spot, "because he wanted to be on the top of a hill when Gabriel blows his trumpet."

So it would seem that in adopting another doctrine some points of the old one yet remained in mind.

But the fact of changing the tenets of his faith did not wholly change his characteristics. At the age of ninety, and only a few months before his death, the Reverend Joshua V. Himes, evidently still smarting at the memory of the ridicule to which he and all believers in the prophecy were subjected in 1843 and 1844m took up his pen and wrote the following letter, which was published in "The Outlook Magazine" and dated October 29, 1984:

"To the Editors of The Outlook:

"I have been much interested in the articles lately appearing in The Outlook upon the question of Ascension robes. I am glad that the public interest has been again aroused upon this topic, for it is time it should be settled, and settled right, and nothing is truly settled until it is settled right. I wish to say that I was intimately associated with William Miller for eleven years, beginning in 1839; that with him I attended hundreds of meetings, laboring with him in public and private, and was with him at his home in the State of New York on the night of the tenth day of the seventh month when we expected the Lord to come; and having a perfect knowledge of everything connected with that work, I know the whole story of the Ascension robes to be a concoction of the enemies of the Adventists, begotten of religious prejudices, and that there is not a scintilla of truth in it. No wonder the writer in The Outlook of October 27th did not give his name and address. The statement that 'to be prepared, dressed in their Ascension robes, was the instruction given by their leaders to the rank and file of the Millerites,' is almost too silly to be noticed. The writer originated and with others signed the call for the first Adventist conference which was held with the Church over which he was pastor (the Chardon Street Baptist Church) in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1840.

"During those eventful days, from 1840 to 1844, and for several years after, I had charge of all their publishing work, and no man, living or dead, knew better what was taught and done by Adventists that I did. There were some excesses such as always attend great religious upheavals, but they were not committed by the instruction of their leaders, and the putting on of ascension robes was not one of these excesses.

"When these stories first started, and while I was publishing in the interests of the Adventist cause, I kept a standing offer in the paper, of which I was editor, of a large reward for one well-authenticated case where an Ascension robe was worn by those looking for the Lord's return. No such proof has ever been forthcoming. It was always a rumor, and nothing more. Absolute evidence never has been furnished. It has always been one of those delightful falsehoods which many people have wanted to believe, and hence its popularity and perpetuity until this present day. I have refuted the story hundreds of times in both the Advent Herald in Boston, Massachusetts, and in The Midnight Cry in New York, which had a circulation of tens of thousands of copies; and no accusers ever made an attempt to defend themselves, although I held my columns open to them to do so. And now, at the age of ninety years, with a full personal experience of those times, before God who is my Judge, and before whose tribunal I must soon appear, I declare again, that the Ascension robe story is a tissue of falsehoods from beginning to end, and I am glad of the opportunity to deny it once more before I die.

"The preparation urged upon 'the rank and file' of those looking for the coming of the Lord was a preparation of heart and life by a confession of Christ, a forsaking of their sins and living a Godly life; and the only robes they were exhorted to put on were the robes of righteousness, obtained by faith in Jesus Christ; garments made white in the blood of the Lamb. Nothing of an outward appearance was ever thought of or mentioned.

"Joshua V. Himes, Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Elk Point, South Dakota."

Now it must have been his change of faith, or the fact of preaching another doctrine, or his ninety years, that confused the old gentleman's memory in regard to this matter, which seems a very insignificant detail to dwell upon in view of the overpowering magnitude of the subject of the prophecy.

But in justice to the many accounts of the days preceding the expected end that have been gathered together in this volume, the author feels called upon to state that in making so sweeping a statement he widely overstepped the mark. We believe it to be quite true that no orders were issued from headquarters - meaning himself and Prophet Miller, Elder Bliss, and a small group of preachers associated with them from the first, as to the wearing of the white robes, but there is nothing to justify the statement that they were not worn by any of the deluded followers of the prophecy, and there are many still living who can testify to the contrary, some of whom have done so in this book, who can in no way be called 'enemies to the Adventists.' Moreover, the author has diligently searched the files of "The Midnight Cry" and "The Advent Herald" (the latter covering the years up to 1860, of which only a few copies were missing), and has failed to find any reference whatsoever to ascension robes, or any mention of the reward the old gentleman speaks of in his letter; nor has she been able to discover the refutations which he declares he had printed in the columns of both these papers 'hundreds of times.' There were frequent remonstrances in regard to some other symbolic acts which were being indulged in, and it is possible that the memory of these may have caused confusion in his mind, but the only reference to the very harmless act of wearing the white robes is in Elder Bliss's "Life of William Miller" which was published by Elder Himes in 1853, nine years after the great fiasco of the prophecy, in which it says: "All reports respecting the preparation of ascension robes, etc., which are still by many believed, were demonstrated over and over again to be false and scandalous. In the investigation of the truth of such, no labor or expense was spared, and it became morally certain that no instance of the kind anywhere occurred." [Letters like the following are certainly sufficiently definite: "I heard my mother tell that when she was a girl she remembers that her mother made a white robe, put her house in order, put lamps in the windows and sat up all night waiting for the end of the world to come. Trusting this information will be of some value to you, I am very truly yours, Ida M. Wing, New Bedford, Aug. 21, 1921."]

But Elder Luther Boutelle, a man whose integrity has never been questioned, in writing his "Autobiography," in which he describes the happenings of those days, quotes directly from the very page upon which this statement appears and, continuing down to the paragraph itself, stops short and totally ignores its contents; and why? - because Elder Boutelle knew perfectly well that in his own home town of Groton and in his own State of Massachusetts, especially in the rural districts, to say nothing of other localities, this perfectly innocent bit of symbolism was, if not universally, at least very prevalently, indulged in. Elder Boutelle, like Prophet Miller, was by nature outspoken and direct in thought and speech and free from subterfuge, and while certain of the Brethren, under the sting of humiliation, denied this and denied that after the great fiasco, neither he nor his leader ever belittled the memory of their supreme disappointment by raising or refuting questions of such minor import as the one referred to; their thoughts were wholly occupied with the one all-absorbing hope which, in spite of repeated failure to materialize, they still clung to. In a letter to the author Elder Boutelle's granddaughter declares that to the end of his life of ninety-two years "grandfather was running with the message most of the time!"

"Let the closing scenes of life's drama be spent in the service of our Christ who is soon to appear," he wrote at the end of his "Autobiography," "that we may be able to say with the Apostle: 'Whether we live, we live unto the Lord: whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.'"

Fine old Elder Boutelle! Staunch old Christian! If he was mistaken as to the manner and time of the Coming, no one could question the genuineness of his love of the Master. He lies in the burying-ground in Groton in view of the distant hills which he loved. But he and others all passed on years ago; all those earnest souls who looked for the destruction of the earth by fire and for the immediate coming of the Lord - Prophet Miller, Elder Bliss, Brother Storrs, and Brother Southard, and the host of Brethren whose voices roused the echoes far and wide with their startling cries of warning - they have all gone; and the Reverend Joshua V. Himes still awaits in his grave upon the hill-top for the end which has not yet come.

No more made Ben Whitcombs gallop through the country lanes shouting that the end is near; no more fair maids like lovely Mary Hartwell go fleeing from their betrothed for fear of the wrath to come; no little bands of eager, fear-racked souls go trailing up from village street to hill-top to await the awful summons.

The mysterious wave of agitation has long since receded into the unexplored etheric regions from whence it came; even the memory of it all has almost passed away.

The followers of William Miller claimed that in spite of the failure of his prophecy the whole experience was of God; that through fear of the Awful Day, souls who could not otherwise be reached were brought under subjection and saved from the torments of hell. They forgot the inspiring admonition of the Apostle Paul: "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind."

With this reassuring and illuminating statement to counteract the direful accounts of the strange religious hysteria of 1843 and 1844, and the delusion of William Miller, the book closes.

The End.

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