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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Charles Fitch (1805-1844)

Sit back and listen to the story of Charles Fitch:

After studying at Brown University in Rhode Island, Charles Fitch began his ministry in the Congregational Church at Abington, Connecticut. In March of 1838 Fitch wrote William Miller stating that he had read Miller's Lectures and did not doubt the correctness of his views. For approximately three and a half years, he held back from preaching the Millerite message. Eventually, because he preached the doctrine of "holiness" and was exhorted not to do so, Fitch felt it necessary to separate from the established church. This separation caused him to be less influenced by the fear of man regarding the Millerite understanding of the advent.

Josiah Litch visited Fitch and told him he needed the doctrine of the second advent to add to his doctrine of holiness. Litch left him more literature to study and requested he correspond as to the result of his study. This study led to his accepting the advent doctrine.

Thereafter, Fitch traveled tirelessly, throwing himself unreservedly into proclaiming the need of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. He moved his family to Cleveland, Ohio and held meetings and baptisms all over Ohio.

In 1842, feeling the need of an accurate chart, Fitch and Apollos Hale prepared the famous chart illustrating the fulfillment of the last-time prophecies of Daniel. This was used extensively by the Millerites. Fitch himself used this chart and also other visual aids including a replica of the Daniel 2 statue that could be separated into its various parts. Charles Fitch became seriously ill, probably with pneumonia, in the month of October, 1844. He had chilled while baptizing converts. He died on Monday, October 14th, in full faith that he should awake in a few days in the likeness of his Redeemer. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

William Miller had a strong religious background, but he became attached to the wrong "crowd". His friends set aside the Bible and had vague ideas about God and His personality. When Miller was thirty-four years of age he became dissatisfied with his views. The Holy Spirit impressed his heart, and he turned to the study of the Word of God. He found in Christ the answer to all his needs. His study led him to the great prophecies that pointed to the first and to the second advent of our Lord. The time prophecies interested him, particularly the prophecies of Daniel and The Revelation.

In the year 1818, as a result of his study of the prophecies of Daniel 8 and 9, he came to the conclusion that Christ would come some time in the year 1843 or 1844. He hesitated until 1831 before he began to announce his findings. From his first public service we may mark the beginnings of the Advent movement in North America. In the months and years that followed, roughly 100,000 persons came to believe in the imminence of Christ’s second coming.

Following the great disappointment of 1844, Miller lived for several years. He fell asleep in Christ in 1849. A small chapel stands near his home in Low Hampton, New York, built by Miller before he died. In spite of his misunderstanding of the event that was to transpire in 1844, God used him to awaken the world to the nearness of the end and to prepare sinners for the time of judgment.

- APL Gallery, Updated 27 June 2006

Charles Fitch (1805–1844) was an American preacher in the early 19th century, who rose to prominence for his work with the Millerite movement.

During his early years, in the 1830s, he had associated with famous evangelist Charles G. Finney, and worked with him on the causes of temperance and abolition. In 1838, he found some copies of William Miller's lectures, and accepted them at once. However, when he went to share them with local colleagues, he was rebuffed, and so he backed off.

Three years later, after meeting with Josiah Litch, he openly accepted the Millerite movement, and became one of its foremost preachers. While the core of the Millerite movement was in New England, Fitch focused his efforts on Ohio, Michigan, and Western New York.

Fitch's most notable contribution to Millerism came in the summer of 1843. At the time the public sentiment had begun to turn against the Millerites, and many preachers and believers were faced with expulsion from their churches. But up to this point, William Miller had advised his followers not to separate from their churches.

Charles Fitch then preached a powerful sermon based on Revelation 18: "Babylon the great has fallen... Come out of her, my people!" Up to this point, most Protestants had identified Babylon in the text as the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. In this sermon, Fitch labeled all the Protestant churches that had not accepted the message of Jesus' Second Coming as Babylon. He then invited the Millerites to separate from their churches.

This cry was taken up by George Storrs, who cautioned the Millerites not to organize a new church, for "no church can be organized by man's invention but what it becomes Babylon the moment it is organized." Joseph Marsh, editor of the Voice of Truth, also supported this call to separate. The Millerite leaders themselves withheld from supporting this call, but neither did they do anything to prevent it.

After the first initial disappointment that occurred when Jesus did not come by the spring of 1844, Fitch then traveled east to continue evangelizing. In August 1844, Samuel S. Snow reinvigorated the Millerite movement by predicting that Jesus would come on October 22, 1844. Charles Fitch continued to preach and baptize, even into the colder autumn months, and in early October after baptizing three groups of believers in a brisk wind, he contracted a high fever and died on October 14, 1844, just eight days before he expected Jesus to come. He was 39 years old. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, July 6, 2010

Among the younger men who supported William Miller in his preaching of the advent of Christ was Charles Fitch. Born in December, 1805, he was only thirty-three years old when he first heard Miller in 1838. After his education at Brown University he had been a pastor much beloved in the several churches of Connecticut and Massachusetts where he had served. It was while he was pastor of the Marlboro Chapel, a Congregational church, that he heard Miller lecture and later sent for copies of his sermon.

Although Fitch did not accept the teaching concerning the second coming of Christ at that time, the preaching of Miller fired his zeal, and he left Boston, traveling widely, conducting evangelistic meetings in the churches of New England, New York, and even as far west as Lake Erie. He eventually returned to Haverhill, Massachusetts, his former home. In some unaccountable way he felt that his power of witnessing for Christ had deserted him. He fell into a period of deep discouragement.

It seemed the doors of the churches now were shut to him. Where should he go to tell the message of God's love and desire to make His people perfect in His love? He had fasted and prayed and wept before the Lord, but no way was open for him to continue. Then, as he sat there one cold December day, there came a knock at his door. When he opened it, there stepped within a stranger who said: "Brother Fitch, you do not know me, but I have known of you for four years, since you first inquired about the message of the Lord's coming. For in that year I also heard this faith, and believed it, and began to preach it. My name is Josiah Litch, of Philadelphia."

Then they talked together, and as Fitch told his new friend of his perplexities, Litch said to him, "Brother, you need the truth of Jesus' coming with the message you have been preaching."

Charles Fitch turned again to his Bible and studied the subject of Jesus' coming. And again he was convinced, and now he put his whole soul into it. He expected, as did others who accepted this faith, that he would lose his friends, some of whom in his ministry of love had become very dear to him. And, of course, there were some who turned against him, but there were others who rejoiced with him in the faith of Jesus' coming.

Now Charles Fitch found the ears of the people open to listen, and with Miller and Himes and Litch and others, he went forth to proclaim the soon coming of Jesus. It took him far away from his home most of the time. Traveling by foot and horse and stage and steamboat was hard; there was no certain pay; but there was gladness in his heart and voice as he went out to give the message.

Very soon, as he was lecturing on the visions of Daniel and John, there came to his mind a word from the prophet Habakkuk, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it," and he sat down and devised what are believed to be the first prophetic charts used by the Advent preachers of those days.

In the latter part of 1842 Charles Fitch started for the West to proclaim the message. In those times the United States was not so large as now, and the territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains and around the Great Lakes was very little settled. There were as yet no railroads out there, but the rivers and the Great Lakes were beginning to be used by steamboats; and two canals in the State of Ohio, which connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River, had helped greatly to develop the country. Cincinnati, then the largest city, had about forty thousand people, and Cleveland, on Lake Erie, had about six thousand.

Fitch went to Cleveland, where he soon moved his family, and where he lived for the next two years. From this place he, with Elon Galusha and other ministers, went out over the State to the new and growing cities and the little towns, where the country people would come in to listen to the message. Akron and Marietta, the oldest towns in the State, were cities where the message was gladly received, and indeed all through this Western country the preachers of the Advent message found a people more ready to believe in Jesus' coming than those in the older country of the East. These new settlers were deeply interested in education also, and they established schools such as Oberlin College, near Cleveland, where the students and some of the teachers largely supported themselves on the farm and in other industries, and where a true Christian education was in every way encouraged. At Oberlin there was great interest in the message Charles Fitch and his helpers brought, and many there turned to look for the coming of their Lord.

In Cleveland, Fitch found a Congregational church who were willing to let him use their building, fronting the public square, and from this church for perhaps a year the people of Cleveland in greater and greater numbers heard the message proclaimed. Finally the company of believers built a larger church, in which the work was continued. One who was then a young man living in Cleveland has told of hearing Charles Fitch preach. "He was a very winsome man," he said, "slender, but well built, and with a smile that would disarm an enemy and which truly spoke the kindliness of his nature. He was a very powerful speaker, and under his preaching many nights I have seen hundreds, deeply convicted, rise and go forward to ask for prayers and salvation in the kingdom. There was a solemnity about the meetings that none, even of the most flippant, could resist or change. Fitch always had command of his audiences.

"One night, I remember, when at the close of his sermon he called for repentant sinners to come forward, a great lubberly fellow, whom I well knew, with others rose in the gallery and started to come down the stairs that led to the pulpit. Part way down he stumbled and almost fell the rest of the way. A laugh started among the lighter-minded in the audience, but Mr. Fitch called out, 'Never mind, brother! It's better to stumble into heaven than to walk straight into hell.' And the laughing died as quickly as it had started."

In the summer of 1844 William Miller, to whom Charles Fitch was very dear, went on a tour of the cities and country where Fitch had been working. He came to Cleveland and preached there, and then went on to other cities and towns as far as Cincinnati. And everywhere he found the people in great crowds eager to hear.

Not only did Fitch preach, but he published in Cleveland a paper called the Second Advent of Christ, which for two years carried far out through the northwestern country the message that he could not everywhere carry in person. A great love of the truth of Jesus' near coming was thus planted in the hearts of the people; and, as will be noted, in later years the fruit of this sowing was reaped in the rapid progress of the message.

Charles Fitch, however, did not have long thereafter to labor. There appears a most interesting statement about his death and his coming reward in Early Writings, on page 17, 1945 edition. The cause of his death, in October, 1844, was a fever that was brought on in the following way. He had a large number of new believers who desired baptism, and others who had not yet made up their minds. The company who were ready went with him to the lake, and there were baptized. A cold wind was blowing as he, with them, started in his wet garments for home, and he was much chilled. But he had not gone far when he met another company from among those whom he had left behind, who now came desiring baptism. He went back with them to the lake and also immersed them. Then as they started home there came a third company whose conviction of sin and of Jesus' salvation and of His soon coming had brought them to the decision. At their request he turned again and baptized them also. The next day, though ill from the effects of his chill, he rode in the cold wind some miles to another appointment. This proved too hard on him, and he was stricken down, and after an illness of several weeks he died. His last clear words, in answer to some who asked him of his faith, were, "I believe in the promises of God."

Among all those in America who preached and taught the message of Jesus' coming, perhaps none was so widely and deeply loved as Charles Fitch. He had a depth of love that reached high to his Savior and low and far to his fellow men. Always courageous, hopeful, and helpful, he interpreted the love of God not only in word but in deed, and he bound firmly in friendship and perfect love thousands to whom he ministered and hundreds with whom he labored. He did a great work, and he left a mark of his labors both upon the country where he preached and upon the methods of his successors. He may well be remembered as the beloved apostle of the Advent message.

- Connecticut Valley Adventist Church, Pioneer Stories - compiled by Theodore Lucas, 1956

Congregational minister, later Presbyterian minister, Millerite leader, the designer of the “1843 chart.” Early in 1838 Fitch accepted Miller’s views, producing a sensation with his sermons. But his ministerial associates treated the new doctrine with such searing ridicule and contempt that for a time he lost confidence in it, and lapsed into his former views of the world’s conversion.

It was Josiah Litch, who had known of Fitch’s experience, who brought him again to the definite acceptance of the Adventist faith. From then on he was one of the most fearless, aggressive, and successful Millerite leaders. Fitch, assisted by Apollos Hale, designed the widely used “1843” prophetic chart, painted on cloth, which he presented to the Boston General Conference of May 1842.

In the latter part of 1842 Fitch was asked to go to Cleveland, Ohio, and vicinity. Despite opposition, a definite interest in the Advent message developed at Oberlin College, where Fitch was given opportunity to deliver a series of lectures on the Second Advent in September 1843.

By 1843 Fitch was one of the most prominent of the Millerite leaders. In January of that year he began to edit a weekly journal called the Second Advent of Christ. In this he printed (July 26, 1843) his sermon (from Rev. 14 and 18) on the mighty angel who cried, “Babylon the great is fallen,” and who was followed by the warning voice, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” In this Fitch contended that the term Babylon was no longer limited to the Roman Catholic Church, but now included also the great body of Protestant Christendom. He maintained that both branches of Christendom had, by their rejection of the light on the Advent, fallen from the high estate of pure Christianity. He contended that Protestantism was either cold to the doctrine of the Second Advent or had spiritualized it away. This address was put into pamphlet form and later reprinted in various Millerite papers.

Early in October 1844 Fitch accepted the “seventh month” concept, and looked to Oct. 22 as the time for the coming of Christ. He was ill in Buffalo at the time, and died on Oct. 14, shortly before the day of expectation, from pneumonia contracted after prolonged exposure while baptizing outdoors in cold weather. - IMS Media Online Library


Charles Fitch: herald of Christ's return

During the early 1800s, William Miller, a Baptist lay preacher, became convicted that the second coming of Jesus would soon occur. For several years, he resisted preaching about this conviction, but in 1832, he accepted an invitation to speak at a Baptist worship service in Dresden, New York. The people were so impressed by Miller’s exposition of Daniel and Revelation that they invited him to speak every evening that week.

Word spread quickly and Miller never lacked for a pulpit after that.

By late 1844, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people, including many ministers, had joined what has come to be known as the “Millerite movement.”

Two of those preachers were Charles Fitch and Josiah Litch.

Litch was the first to become a Millerite, and he became an ardent advocate of the Second Coming. Charles Fitch was one of his converts. In a letter to a friend, Fitch wrote, “When dear Brother Litch named the second advent, I went to the Lord; I read my Bible, and all the works that I could obtain. I possessed myself of all the evidences in the case that I could; and then with fasting and prayer I laid them and myself with my all before the Lord... . Light seemed breaking in upon my mind, ray after ray.”

Fitch and Finney

For a few years, Fitch was associated with Charles G Finney, who was the “Billy Graham” of his day. Finney, a young lawyer, became a Christian in 1821 and he eventually became a Presbyterian minister. By the 1830s, what had begun as village revivals, were impacting urban centres such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Rochester.

It’s been estimated some 500,000 people were converted as a result of Finney’s preaching.

When Finney opened his famous Broadway Tabernacle in New York City in 1836, he chose his friend Charles Fitch to preach the sermon and offer the benedictory prayer. Fitch often spoke of Finney as the “father of modern revivalism.” The two were close spiritual brothers. They were also linked as reformers in an age filled with reform. Both embraced social concerns such as antislavery and temperance.

Finney and Fitch also believed Jesus would return someday. However, a serious disagreement over that teaching put extreme strain on their relationship.

Finney believed Christ would come at the end of the 1000-year period called “the millennium,” while Fitch was equally certain the Second Coming would occur before the millennium. (Signs of the Times adopts Fitch’s view.)

Fitch and “the Advent near”

As a minister in Congregational and then Presbyterian parishes, Fitch gave years of close study to the biblical teaching about Christ’s second coming.

In March 1838, he read a paper about the Second Coming to his local ministerial association and in December 1841, a magazine called Signs of the Times (a forerunner of today’s Signs of the Times but a different magazine) reported that “dear brother” Fitch “has come into the full faith of the Second Advent.”

Next to William Miller himself, Fitch became one of the most prominent ministers in the Millerite movement. In January 1843, he launched his own Millerite periodical with the title, The Second Advent of Christ. This magazine helps us trace his experience as one of the hundreds of ministers in many denominations who focused on Miller’s message of Christ’s return. By March 1844, a Second Advent paper in New York City, The Midnight Cry, estimated that between 1500 and 2000 lecturers were proclaiming that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Methodist ministers—followed by Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian clergy—were the most prominent heralds of the urgent message of the nearness of Christ’s return. Such preachers were not short of Bible verses to sustain their claim that Christ would return personally, visibly, audibly and gloriously. Didn’t Jesus liken His return to the brightness of lightning that shines from the east to the west? He also declared that “all the nations of the earth ... will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory”

(Matthew 24:26–30). These ministers cherished the apostle Paul’s reference to “the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11–14).

Fitch’s spirituality

To study the writings of Charles Fitch is to journey with him into a deepening understanding of the Bible and its saving message. As Fitch wrestled with the significance of Christ’s glorious return, he started to see a fresh meaning in the texts that refer to the resurrection.

Jesus promised, “All that are in their graves will hear his voice.” He declared Himself to be “the resurrection and the life.” When the apostle Paul described the events that will occur at the Second Coming, he stated that “the dead in Christ will rise first” (see John 5:28; 11:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Fitch was especially enthusiastic about Miller’s preaching of the second advent of Christ. Like Fitch, for a number of weeks, Miller believed the Scriptures indicated an exact date on which Jesus would return—October 22, 1844. Miller was of course deeply disappointed when the great day of hope turned into a day of bitter disappointment.

Cured forever of date-setting, on November 10, 1844, Miller wrote a letter that was printed in The Midnight Cry the following month: “Brethren,” he wrote, “hold fast; let no man take your crown. I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light— and that is Today, TODAY, TODAY, until He comes, and I see Him for whom my soul yearns.”

Unfortunately, several weeks before October 22, Fitch performed several baptisms outdoors in cold weather.

As a result, he contracted pneumonia, and he died on October 14, 1844, just eight days before the anticipated date of Christ’s return. Had he lived to read Miller’s letter, he would surely have heartily agreed. He might also have quoted what Jesus said, after describing the signs that warn us about the climax of history: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

In His greatest Advent sermon, Jesus speaks to all of us, saying, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).

- By Arthur Patrick
Copyright © 2011 Signs of the Times & netAdventist


Letter from Charles Fitch to William Miller

"Boston, March 5, 1838.

"MY DEAR BROTHER: - I am a stranger to you, but I trust that, through the free sovereign grace of God, I am not altogether a stranger to Jesus Christ, whom you serve. I am the pastor of an Orthodox Congregational church in this city. A few weeks since your lectures on the Second Coming of Christ were put into my hands. I sat down to read the work, knowing nothing of the views which it contained. I have studied it with an overwhelming interest, such as I never felt in any other book except the Bible. I have compared it with Scripture and history, and I find nothing on which to rest a single doubt respecting the correctness of your views. Though a miserable, guilty sinner, I trust that, through the Lord's abounding grace, I shall be among those that `love his appearing.' I preached to my people two discourses yesterday on the coming of our Lord, and I believe a deep and permanent interest will be awakened thereby in God's testimonies. My object in writing you, my dear sir, is twofold.

"1st. Will you have the kindness to inform me, by letter, in what history you find the fact stated that the last of the ten kings was baptized A. D. 508, and also that the decree of Justinian, giving the Bishop of Rome power to suppress the reading of the Scriptures, was issued in 538? All the other data which you have given I have found correct, and I know of no reason to doubt your correctness in these. But, as I have not yet been able to find a statement of those facts, you will do me a great favor by just informing me where I may find them; and I shall then feel prepared to defend the truth, and to point others to the right source of information.

"There is a meeting of our Ministerial Association to-morrow, and, as I am appointed to read an essay, I design to bring up this whole subject for discussion, and trust that I may thereby do something to spread the truth.

"2d. My second object in writing was to ask if you would put me in the way to obtain a dozen copies of your lectures. I know of none to be obtained here. I know of several individuals who are very desirous to obtain the work, and if you can tell me of any place where it can be obtained in this city, or in New York, you will greatly oblige me. If you can give me any information of importance on the subject, not contained in your book, I should greatly rejoice, because, as I stand a watchman on the walls, I wish to `give the trumpet a certain sound,' and to make that sound as full, and explicit, and convincing as possible.

"Yours in the faith of Jesus Christ,