In beginning of this episode, Ellen is supposed to be roughly 12-13 years old. During the course of the episode she’ll age to about 16ish, so I can forgive them for casting an older actress.
In any case, to make room for Miller’s conversion, they are going to skip Ellen’s “accident.” Either that or they realize that hey, it doesn’t look good to make these visions look like they happened so soon after “the accident.”
At least, that is what they keep calling it, but we all know it was no accident. For those that don’t know, Ellen Harmon, while walking home from school one day, was hit really hard in the face with a rock. A classmate had gotten angry over “some trifle” and thrown it at her.
I fell senseless. When I revived, I found myself in a store, the blood streaming from my nose, my garments covered in blood, and large stream of blood on the floor…I have no recollection of anything for some time after the accident. My mother says I noticed nothing, but lay in a coma for 3 weeks. No one thought I would live except my mother. For some reason she felt I would not die. 1 bio chapter 2, p. 28
(Ellen White–The Early Years: 1827-1862, by Arthur White)
Ellen was so disfigured by the incident that her own father, afterward, didn’t recognize her.
So, when the family says “the accident,” this is what they are talking about.
With all that in mind, our story begins in Portland, Maine, 1840. We open on a picturesque little white church near a stream. A bell rings. We move inside the little white church, where the movie makers take no pains to hide the fact that this was a heavily segregated church; black people crowded on to the balcony, white people down below in weird looking closed in pews.
Hang on…this pre-civil war. Are these people….was Maine…nope. Maine was never a slave state. Moving on.
Miller is blathering about his message, the 2300 days, the soon coming of Christ. He tells the congregation that a lot of people now believe as he does, this isn’t just him anymore. He quotes a bible verse about how in heaven there will be no more sorrow or pain. We get a closeup of Ellen’s face, then we cut to the opening credits.
Now, keeping in mind that at this point Ellen White was both disfigured and disabled. She suffered from pain and anxiety, among other things, for the rest of her life as a result of the incident. Imagine yourself in that situation. Imagine you are in pain all the time. Imagine that you hear a message about the soon coming of Christ. No more pain, no more sorrow, soon, in your lifetime, you will be healed. You are happy, ecstatic. You will not have to live like this much longer.
That is how Ellen feels here, and that is how I felt growing up. I have a neurological disability that causes me to make movements and noises I cannot control.
Like Ellen, I was told that Jesus was coming in my lifetime. That someday I would be able to control my own body.
Ellen and I both had our own Great Disappointment. But I’m getting ahead of the story again. Let’s get back to the film.
After the scene at the church, we cut to the Harmon family at home. Young Ellen is in a rocking chair, wrapped up in blankets, while the rest of the family helps Mr. Harmon make hats.
Now, I have been reading that Young Ellen sometimes helped her father make hats, and that in those days, mercury was used to make certain parts of them. It isn’t known for sure if Ellen was ever exposed to the mercury, but if she was, it would explain some (but not all of) her health problems, specifically her trembling hands.
(Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health, Chapter one.)
If you are an ex SDA you should give that book a perusal. It was written by someone who was an Adventist when he first started writing it, but isn’t one any longer. It’s extremely balanced, well written, well researched. Numbers does not believe that the exposure to mercury could have caused Ellen White’s visions, but it is interesting to note.
In any case, Young Ellen is in her rocking chair, looking like she’s going to fall asleep. Ellen’s mother tells her to go to bed, but Ellen begs to be allowed to remain awake. Two of Ellen’s sisters are helping their father make hats. We’re not told the names of these 2, and Ellen had like 8 siblings, so I can’t begin to guess.
Pink Dress: Come Ellen. Let us pray that tomorrow you will be stronger.
She has the oddest expression on her face. Like she’s smug about Ellen being weak or something. I can’t tell if I’m supposed to think this, or if she’s a terrible actress.
Ellen: every morning before I open my eyes I pray that this will be the day that I will forget about the accident. I see the morning light and it all returns.
Unfortunately for Young Ellen, traumatic events are not the ones our brains usually forget.
Ellen’s mother makes some remark about God not forgetting her, and I’m sure it’s meant to be comforting but it comes across as something rather flippant and it just irritates me. Ellen, however, smiles.
Ellen: I long for the day of what Father Miller spoke of in church. No more pain….I’ve never heard Jesus described as a healer before. I’ve heard of his wrath, and his judgement, but I have never…his healing. So beautiful.
Yeah I’m gonna cautiously call bullshit on this. You were raised a Christian. You would have read of Jesus’ love eleventy bajillion times just from reading the New Testament. Now, I could believe that a lot of your pastors have preached hellfire and brimstone, but I’m not going to buy that you’ve never ever heard of Jesus as a healer. That’s kind of the focal point of Christianity.
Then we cut to a scene of clunky exposition. The movie can’t figure out how to show that William Miller has changed, so we get this really short clunky scene where his friends are going to tell us.
Man1: I miss the old Miller. He’s filled with heaven now
Man2: and his mouth won’t stop speaking about it
Man1: Yeah and he doesn’t drink anymore
Man3: Which I suppose leaves more for all of us *passing around drinks*
Man1: now who’d have thought a simple farmer could become a justice of the peace and then start a religious revolution?
Man2: Barnaby Larson’s just returned, and he says that this doomsday idea is on every tongue in England. And it’s spreading throughout Europe….this notion of a second coming is heard as far away as Africa and India.
More clunky exposition. Seriously, you couldn’t have shown us some African or Indian scenes during the montage of preaching?
Man1: Yeah, and the alchemists thought they could turn iron into gold
I thought it was turn straw into gold?
Man1: Just because there are believers does not make it so.
The man’s got a valid point. Lots of people believe lots of things. Just because the idea spreads far and wide doesn’t mean the idea is right.
Exhibit A: William Miller
Anyway, we get another montage of William Miller traveling and preaching. We can tell that time is going by because of the changes in weather. First Miller is driving his buggy through snow, then warm spring. The music fades as Miller and Himes start arguing.
Miller: Joshua, you have the enthusiasm of a young man. it is invigorating and infuriating at the same time.
Miller is apparently tired of all the traveling. Himes argues with him that what they are doing is still not enough. Himes wants to start a newspaper.
Miller: I am a tired old man
Himes: And I am the owner of a printing press!
The next scene we get is Joshua Himes (My brain still insists on calling him Vimes) grinning maniacally as the printing press churns out the very first copy of Signs of the Times. This magazine still exists today, and it is still run by Adventists.
We are told the day is March 20, 1840.
We cut to a scene of the Miller family reading the first copy.
Millers daughter, now grown up: It talks about father’s message
Mama Miller: Pride goeth before a fall. We must not let our heads fill with our own self importance.
Miller’s Daughter: Are those words from the Bible?
Yes, actually. That would be proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
So I’m really surprised that we instead get told:
Mama Miller: Those are words from your mother.
She takes the paper from one of her grown sons, and despite her words, we can see her heart fill with pride as she reads her husband’s words in print for the first time. More reaction shots with the whole family looking so proud they’re about to cry. It’s…. a bit over the top.
We cut back to the Harmon’s church, where the pastor has decided that there’s a need to address what Miller is teaching.
Pastor: Miller and those who listen to him suffer from a grand delusion. They claim that Jesus will return by a certain date. It’s not the first time the end of the world has been prophesied by a fool. Nor will it be the last.
Are we supposed to ignore that Mr. Pastor is right? Of course, he won’t use the Bible to prove it, which is odd. Because you absolutely could. Here’s a nice verse I had memorized. Matthew 24 is a chapter where Jesus is speaking to his disciples, both about the second coming and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem:
Matthew 24:36 NIV
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Let us move down a few verses
42“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Emphasis mine)
Thank you, Jesus, you have proved my point most excellently. Even from a strictly Christian perspective, there is reason to beware the date setters.
The movie will not take that route. The movie will not take that route because then you would notice the glaring inconsistency. In fact, I don’t recall this ever being addressed in Bible class growing up.
Pastor: I fear that if the day passes a shout of infidelity will arise from the unbelievers. Many of you have been led astray. The world is not going to end in a few short years.
I am nodding along. He’s talking sense. Listen to the wise one, Ellen!
But then he keeps talking and I lose all sympathy.
Pastor: But it will end. And when it does, are you prepared, sinner? Will you stand before the wrath of a holy God as he looks upon the deeds behind which you cower, and shout: “depart from me ye that works iniquity?”
Then shall the hell fire LAP at the heals of those who turned away because of Miller’s teachings?
So much hotter the flames!
There were so many other ways this sermon could have gone without the need to use scare tactics. There was no need for the fire and brimstone portion.
If God truly would send someone to the lake of fire for merely being deceived, then he is an asshole, and I don’t want to worship him.
Modern day Adventists are, from what I understand, divided on this issue.
That night before she goes to bed, Ellen has a panic attack. She is crying and praying that God will forgive her, that she will not be deceived. She is terrified of going to hell.
Show of hands, how many of us had panic attacks over the same thing? Yeah, my hand is up too.
The morning after the panic attack, Elder Stockman pays a call. Since there are no subtitles, I had to look up his name in Ellen White’s biography. I do not know why her parents would have called Stockman rather than talking to her themselves, but let that pass.
Stockman: Your mother says that you were upset last night.
Ellen: I was taken with such fear. Brother Stockman, I know that you believe in Miller’s teachings
Stockman: Indeed I do, as do many other Methodist ministers.
I’m unable, at the moment, to find out just how many Methodist ministers there were who subscribed to these teachings. Just how popular was Millerism, anyway?
Ellen starts crying as she talks about how all she can hear are the pastor’s words about hellfire.
Ellen*crying*: What hope is there for me?
I think, here, we can all relate to Ellen. While some Christians claim that theirs is a religion of love and peace, many of these exact same Christians (though not all) also believe in hellfire. And I think at some point, every single Christian who was ever born has had a point in time where they are scared absolutely shitless that that lake of fire is exactly where they are going.
Stockman: The very agony in your mind is an indication of God’s holy spirit’s work in your heart. Our god does not rejoice in your destruction. Nor is it his nature to condemn but to seek that which is lost.
Well. Someone’s never read the Old Testament. Or the book of Revelation.
Set that aside. Stockman is seriously saying that Ellen White’s panic attacks (she had many, according to her biography) are caused by God working in her heart. What kind of a God would use hellfire and brimstone preaching to reach someone? Not one I could worship, surely.
Ellen: How can I be sure?
Stockman: Go free, Ellen. Go free.
I get excited for a moment, before he follows that with
Stockman: Trust in Jesus, for he will not turn his back on any true seeker.
If someone has found that putting their trust in Jesus soothed their fears, ok. I can kinda sorta see where you’re coming from. But the thing is, these same fears were caused by the very same religion that comforted them. It’s weird and confusing and… honestly it was hard for me to deal with.
Ellen thanks Brother Stockman, and a man comes out saying that Himes and Miller have called for a conference in Boston, which is our cue to cut to a scene of Mr. Himes driving up to the Miller house. Mrs. Miller and her daughter are hanging what looks like lacy curtains on the clothes line.
Miller’s Daughter: Does Brother Himes know that father is sick?
Mama Miller: We sent him a letter
Which went ignored, apparently. Mrs. Miller comes up to Himes as he starts walking toward the house, telling him that William is in no condition to travel. Himes agrees with her that typhoid fever is quite serious, and that he just wants to visit with Brother Miller. Mrs. Miller looks like she really believes him (not).
Himes: It’s the first time that all of us will be in the same place with a common purpose: Baptists, presbytarians,methodists, all understanding the advent is near!
Mrs. Miller: so you shall meet them. And then you can come back from the conference and tell William all about it.
Himes insists that all he wants is to give William a word of encouragement, and Mrs. Miller relents.
Himes comes into Miller’s room, and immediately starts jabbering about the conference. He tries to convince Miller to go, and…were we supposed to like this guy? Miller is clearly ill, and I don’t know much about Typhoid, but is it possible it’s contagious? Himes really doesn’t have Miller’s best interest in mind, that’s for sure.
Fortunately, Miller realizes this, and sends Himes from the room. Good. I hear a lot, in SDA circles, about people who traveled to preach despite ill health, sacrificing their bodies for God. Except I think that even God would find that foolish. If you took the time needed to rest, you could live longer, and therefore reach more people, than if you don’t take time to rest and constantly burn yourself out.
But what do I know, I apparently have a bad attitude.
FIRST MILLERITE CONFERENCE, BOSTON OCTOBER 13 1840
As people file in for the conference, into what looks like a teeny tiny room, Joshua gets excited to see Joseph Bates. Bates is another big name from the Adventist history books. I can’t now remember what he did, but he was one of the people who had a hand in starting the church.
Himes clunkily tells the audience that Bates has had a lot to do with the temperance work, and has made a big name for himself on the speaking circuit. He does this by telling all of this to brother Bates, who we would think would already know that.
We are also introduced through Hiram Edson, another big name in Adventism. All I remember about him is that he had a vision in a corn field.
After the conference, (no, silly reader, of course we don’t get to see what goes on at the conference) we cut to a scene where Edson and Bates decide that what they heard was amazing, and that they are committing themselves to the Advent message.
Samuel Snow, a man who has been walking with them, agrees. Remember that name, too. It doesn’t come up as often as it should, but he also was instrumental.
Himes comes up, and Bates tells him he believes in Miller so much, he’s going to invest money in the campaign.
I’m not sure if its intentional or not, but Joshua Himes really does seem like the kind of charismatic traveling preacher who would totally do this sort of thing for the money.
After Miller gets better, Himes comes to visit. He tells him that they now have financial resources. The camera pans over shots of a bunch of newspapers, each proclaiming Miller’s message.
We are once again at the little white church. 3 men are on stage, talking in low voices as certain members of the Harmon family sit in the pews.
No seriously, Ellen had like 7 or 8 siblings. Where are they?
I’d like, again, to quote from Prophetess of Health by Ronald Numbers
As the Millerite movement gathered momentum, more and more of its followers found themselves in doctrinal conflict with their local churches. The Harmon Family was no exception. By 1843 hostility had grown to the point where members would groan audibly when Ellen got up to speak in class meetings, so she and her teenager brother, Robert, quit attending.
According to Ellen White’s biography, not attending weekly Methodist meetings was a really big deal. (1 bio 33.4)
Again from Ronald Numbers
Finally the reverend pastor of the chestnut street Methodist church called on the family to inform them that their divergent teachings would no longer be tolerated. He suggested that they quietly withdraw from the church and thus avoid the publicity of a trial.
Mr. Harmon, seeing no reason to be ashamed of his beliefs, demanded a public hearing. Here charges of absenteeism from class meetings were brought against the Harmons, and the following Sunday 7 members of the family –including Ellen–were formally dismissed from the Methodist church.
(Prophetess of Health Ronald Numbers Kindle location 805)
My Adventist history teacher would have you believe that kicking the Harmon family out of the church was a form of persecution. However, it sounds like they were given the boot because they were basically preaching heresy. Imagine, today, if someone came into an SDA church and said that Jesus was coming on March 3, 2024. If such a person did not agree to stop preaching it in their church, then yeah, that person would probably be disfellowshipped.
So really, this isn’t exactly a surprise. Methodists aren’t Millerites. Maybe the Harmon family should go join a Millerite church.
In any case, Mr. Harmon stands up and gives a speech about how awesome it is that Jesus is coming soon, and he will never give that up. The Harmon family get up and leave.
Minister1: How can they speak to us like that?
Minister2: we must not let one bad apple spoil the barrel. We’ll announce their removal from fellowship next Sunday. It will be an example. Our traditions must be held up.
We cut to a small gathering in Washington, New Hampshire 1843. A man I don’t recognize is speaking. A woman and her daughter are in the audience, and I don’t recognize them either. I thought at first that it was Ellen and her mother, but I think I am wrong. Prosopognosia is so annoying.
Who are they supposed to be?
When the man is done speaking, everyone says, “amen.”
Mother(to daughter): I’m gonna speak to him
Daughter: Mother! Keep in mind that we are outsiders
I can’t hear their whispered conversation very well, and there are no subtitles. The mother says something to the daughter, gets up, and hurries up to the man who was just speaking. She begins to speak, and I can barely hear her, something about the commandments. We get some reaction shots of the daughter, who looks very embarrassed.
As mother and daughter walk home together, the mother says,
Mother: he heard what I had to say. He really listened.
Daughter: And will he change his day of worship from Sunday to Saturday?
Mother: He said he was impressed with what I showed him from the bible and that he would study it prayerfully.
There’s some dialogue I can’t hear, and then the mother says, almost angrily:
Mother: Saturday is The Sabbath.
She says more, but I can’t hear it.
Daughter: Mother! There are those who believe that the upcoming judgement day is of greater importance than what day we worship. Perhaps the day won’t matter shortly.
The mother says something irritably to her daughter, but I can’t hear it. It’s like the mother has this quiet little voice and nobody thought she needed a microphone. (In their defense, I might have access to subtitles if I wasn’t using YouTube as my source).
The 2 women exit, and we cut to the scene we saw at the beginning of episode 1, with the hot air balloons.
Miller buys a copy of the newspaper. Himes comes up and starts ranting about the big tent that’s been put up for their meeting.
Himes: It’s the biggest tent that’s ever been erected on American soil! It’s been expanded to seat 60,000!
Miller: Giant tents, what will they think of next?
Himes: We must be on our way
Miller: There’s a smaller meeting I promised I’d stop by on the way
Himes: But the giant tent! We are expected
But Miller insists that he told Brother Bates he would join him. Himes protests that brother Bates should also be at the big tent. He follows after Miller on his horse.
We find Brother Bates in a clearing in the woods, speaking to a small group of people gathered.
Bates: It’s true that 1843 has now passed. Many of you grow anxious. You ask why our savior has not returned? ….I can only tell you that it is in these times that our faith is tested.
A man rides up, and it’s not Himes, it’s brother Snow. He taps his sister on the shoulder, who stands up and says, “let my brother speak. He has news.”
Bates: Brother Snow has a message from the Lord. Let him come up and speak.
Lemme shorten this for you: Samuel Snow is the one who figured out the date of October 22, 1844. He announces it here to this small group. Naturally, this causes quite a stir. Miller thinks that setting an exact date is foolishness, but Himes disagrees.
The scene fades to black, the episode is done. We don’t even get to see if they ever make it to the big tent.