Night of No Return

Night of No Return

The words came at him hard and fast. Hiram Edson’s neighbors in Port Gibson, New York, peppered him with questions, taunts, and comments.

“Have you really not harvested your crops this fall?” a gruff voice asked incredulously.

“That’s right,” Hiram started, smiling. Finally he’d get a chance to explain himself. “You see'”

“They’ll rot in the fields!” a woman interrupted. “You and your family will starve!” She dabbed at the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks.

A man took Hiram by the arm. “Brother Edson,” he pleaded, “you’ve been a good steady man all your life. Don’t let your Second Coming views make a fool out of you!”

“That’s right!” the crowd chorused, igniting a fresh eruption of insults.

“Preachers such as William Miller should be tarred and feathered!”

“Telling lies about Jesus coming to destroy the world on October 22!”

Hiram raised both hands, trying to quiet the crowd. Reluctantly the group complied, the din subsiding until finally he was able to speak.

“Neighbors, I’ve been wrong about a number of things in my life,” he admitted. “But this time I believe I’m right.”

Hiram paused, expecting a new volley of protests. But the crowd stood still. Something almost angelic about the man compelled them to listen.

“Brother Miller is no fanatical alarmist. Since 1816 he’s studied the Bible, especially Daniel and Revelation, learning many new things. He kept quiet about his discoveries, figuring he was a farmer and not a preacher. But then he learned that the sanctuary is going to be cleansed in 1844, which prophetically means that the world is going to be destroyed at that time!”

The crowd seemed to awaken, becoming fidgety at the mention of the world’s destruction. Hiram hurried on. “Brother Miller knew he had to tell people about their danger. That’s why he’s been preaching all over New England for more than 10 years. Jesus is coming in less than a week to destroy the earth and take His followers home to heaven!”

Someone in the crowd gasped in fear.

“But there’s still time to get ready,” Hiram continued. “He’ll accept you as His children today. Come to Him in repentance and confession. Next week will be too late!”

Despite the man’s heartfelt appeal, the crowd became infuriated at the mention of God’s wrath upon the earth.

“Who do you think you are?” they clamored. “You’re no better than the rest of us!”

“Stop this foolishness, Hiram! God is too loving and merciful to destroy His creatures.”

“You Adventists are just a drop in the bucket. What makes you think that millions of us’even our ministers’are wrong and just the few of you right?”

Hiram raised his hand again. “Friends,” he said, “I see that you’ve made up your minds and that nothing I can say or do will'” Here his voice broke, and tears gushed down his face.

He looked over the crowd, from man to woman to child. These were people whom he had known for years. He had gone to school and church with them, had bought supplies from them, had rejoiced with them at weddings and baby christenings, and had cried with them at funerals.

How I love them! he thought. If only they would accept this truth and be saved! But their minds were made up, and changing a New Englander’s mind seemed to call for superhuman ability.

His trembling arms outstretched as though in blessing, Hiram managed to say, “May our God of love have mercy on you in His day of visitation.”

“You’re the one who will need mercy when Jesus doesn’t come next week,” someone retorted immediately. “I’ll be at your home bright and early Wednesday to remind you of it!” Laughter swept over the crowd.

On that note the group disbanded. The crowd departed to their daily duties and to bright dreams of a better life in New England, but Hiram walked slowly toward his barn. There he’d join the other Adventists, those who expected their Savior’s second advent to soon take place, in prayer and in preparing for His return.

Hiram sighed with relief as he quietly entered the barn, happy now to be among believers who understood him and loved him unconditionally. He smiled at the little group of people kneeling and earnestly praying. As he waited for them to finish, he looked at each person and remembered the struggles that had brought each individual to this point.

Nearest him was a white-capped woman wearing a blue dress. “Please, Father,” she prayed, as though she and God had a warm, time-tested relationship, “remember those who haven’t accepted Your message. Open their understanding so that they will realize the joy of Your Son’s second coming. Forgive their sins. And as we share this message with them may we truly be representatives of our loving Lord.”

Then she prayed on behalf of a particular church and its minister. Hiram shook his head in wonder. That church had disfellowshipped this woman when she had accepted the news of Jesus’ soon coming.

Beyond her Hiram saw youthful Advent believers whose parents had disinherited them and thrown them out of their homes. There was a family whose neighbors had ostracized them because they harbored runaway slaves and helped them find freedom in Canada. But there were no signs of fear, discouragement, or vengeance in the expressions of these dear people. Instead their faces were bright with smiles and gratitude, and their lives beamed with hope.

“Brother Edson, I love my parents,” a disowned teenager had confessed the previous day, “but I love God more. When it comes to either obeying them or disobeying God, I choose to obey God, for we should obey God rather than men.”

Hiram’s eyes lingered on each individual until he had covered them all. Here was a teacher, there a minister. Here a housewife, there a farmer. Nearby was a man of gray hairs; a few yards away was a child in the bloom of life. All had two things in common. Their hearts brimmed with love for Jesus, who had rescued them from sin, cold-hearted religion, and worldliness; and they couldn’t wait to see Him.

At the sound of the “Amen” concluding all prayers, the group rose to their feet. One of the men spied Hiram near the door. “Hello there, Brother Edson. What news do you bring from the outside?”

“Discouraging news,” Hiram replied before slumping down. “The people’s minds are closed to any mention of Christ’s soon coming.”

“Do you think the door of mercy has been shut to them?” the woman in the white cap wondered.

“I don’t know, but it’s strange how they beat back the most powerful appeal.”

“Just to be safe, let’s continue praying for them,” she responded with caution. “Jesus doesn’t want even one of them to perish, and neither do we.”

A hearty amen signaled everybody’s agreement.

Following a meal that was filled with conversation and delicious food, the group disbanded. Some headed for their homes, and others remained with Hiram.

“Remember,” Hiram advised, “We know that Jesus will return to take His children home. If your neighbors, the devil, or even an angel from heaven were to say otherwise, it is a lie! God’s Word is sure.”

“Amen!” chorused the others.

“Let’s all meet here next Monday, October 21,” he continued. “We’ve stuck together in preaching this wonderful message. Now let’s be ready to meet the Lord together on Tuesday.”

At the mention of the day joy swept over the group, finding voice in a blaze of remarks. It was like a mass of dry flax erupting into a bonfire, each lighted strand igniting its neighbors. It seemed as though Jesus had already come!

“We’ll be going home to glory!”

“No more slavery!”

“No more sin!”

“Praise the Lord!”

As their words trickled to an end, the group separated, and Hiram’s visitors slipped away into the darkness. Later that night, as the sweet memory of the evening’s spiritual celebration gladdened his heart, Hiram Edson drifted off to sleep.

The sunrise on Tuesday, October 22, 1844, seemed the most glorious that the little group had ever seen. Amid clouds flecked with orange and yellowish hues the sun came up triumphantly, chasing the shadows of night away’just as Jesus would soon chase away the darkness of sin. Majestically its rays bathed the world in what seemed a sacred glow, surely symbolizing the healing and righteousness with which Jesus would cover His waiting saints.

Huddled together in Hiram Edson’s home, the believers had been up for hours. Who could sleep with such an event about to explode on earth’s stage?

Tired children begged their parents, “If you catch me falling asleep, wake me in a hurry. I don’t want Jesus to find me sleeping!” Even elderly adults whispered to younger persons near them, “Poke me in the ribs if I should doze. I want to see everything when Jesus comes.”

All morning long as they gazed toward the eastern sky they sang and prayed, prayed and sang, expecting at any moment to be interrupted by the trumpet announcing Jesus’ arrival.

The sun climbed to its highest point. Still the little company praised God through prayer and testimony. Even when the sun began its westward descent, the group remained of good cheer. But as it dropped beneath the horizon they struggled to keep their faith.

“‘Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward,'” Hiram encouraged, quoting Hebrews 10:35.* “Our faith is being tested.”

But night, dark and unrelenting, spread over the land. All too quickly the clock struck midnight, and Jesus had not come.

Dumbfounded, the Adventists stared at each other. Jesus had not come! It must be a dream. They would awaken any moment now to find that He had come! They blinked their eyes hard and opened them wide.

But inescapable reality hit them like blows: their beloved Lord had not come back!

First the children started whimpering, then burst into tears. Hugging them tightly, the women tried to comfort them, but their own tears and wails of lament joined the children’s. The men rushed to soothe them all, but they too wept unashamedly. They all cried until it seemed they could cry no more. When the last tear was wiped away, it was Wednesday morning, October 23, 1844.

It was the saddest time of their lives.

By morning many of the group had returned home. When those remaining moved to the barn, Hiram tried to boost their spirits and to help them understand the Great Disappointment. He looked from face to face and saw fresh tears threatening to spill down their cheeks at any moment. He coughed several times to clear his throat.

“Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what has happened. But I do know that our God can be trusted. Just look at the marvelous way He has led us in the past. He didn’t bring us this far just to frustrate us.” Heads nodded in agreement. Wiping his eyes, Hiram signaled everyone to kneel for prayer.

“Righteous Father, God of love, You are truth. In You there is no shadow of turning. Surely, then, there must be some misunderstanding on our part as to why Your Son didn’t come yesterday. Please reveal our error to us, and help us to be ready when He does come. In His name, amen.”

“Brother Edson,” someone said as they rose, “I’m confident that God has answered your prayer. But I’m concerned about the other Advent groups. Someone should encourage them, too.”

Immediately a young teacher, Brother O.R.L. Crosier, rested a hand on Hiram’s shoulder. “Let’s go at once, Brother Edson.”

“Yes,” responded Hiram, fresh energy filling him. He picked up his Bible and coat. “But let’s go through the cornfields. Going along the road will bring us past our neighbors, and they’ve vowed to make fun of us.”

At first the two men walked side by side, picking their way past corn stubble. Neither spoke, so absorbed were they in their thoughts.

It was as bright a fall morning as New England had ever seen. The sun pierced the early-morning mist with extra vigor, seeming to announce that everything would continue as usual on earth. Green grass would carpet the ground in due season. Seeds would burst forth into flowers, plants, and food. Winter would melt into spring, spring would blend into summer, and summer would turn into fall.

As Hiram considered these things, he walked slowly. Meanwhile Brother Crosier picked up his pace, unaware that a large gap was developing between him and Hiram. Soon he was nearly beyond speaking distance.

“How long, O Lord,” Hiram questioned, “must we remain in this world of sin?” The sun shone brighter, but he prayed even harder, slowing his steps more to concentrate better. “Rise with healing in Your wings, Sun of Righteousness, and show us Your way.”

Suddenly something like an electric current coursed through Hiram’s body, bringing him to a halt. He felt as though he were in the presence of God Himself. A conviction entered and then filled his mind. He could think of nothing else, even if he tried.

There was a reason for Jesus’ “failed” appearance yesterday! Instead of coming to destroy the earthly sanctuary, He entered the heavenly one, beginning His work of cleansing it. When He finishes His high-priestly ministry there, He’ll come to take His followers home to heaven!

“Praise God!” Hiram whispered in wonder. “God has answered our prayers!”

Just then Brother Crosier turned around to say something to Hiram and was surprised to find him so far behind. “Why are you staying back there so long?” he shouted, thinking of the little groups that needed their comfort.

“God has answered our prayers!” Hiram said breathlessly, running up to him. “He’s explained why He didn’t come yesterday.”

“He did wha’I mean, how did . . . I mean, when did'” The man stopped, not knowing what to say. Hiram smiled, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“As you walked ahead, I prayed to understand what happened yesterday, and God answered. I felt an unshakable conviction that Jesus has entered the heavenly sanctuary to cleanse it of sin instead of coming to destroy the earthly sanctuary.”

Crosier slowly smiled, regaining his composure. “That’s good news, Brother Edson! Good news indeed!” Then he added with conviction, “But we’ll have to search the Scriptures to see if it’s really so.”

“Of course,” agreed Hiram. “And we’ll start after we’ve encouraged the others.”

True to their word, Hiram and Brother Crosier later met for Bible study. But the meeting was not just for a day. It stretched into several days’and sometimes nights! Another Advent believer joined the studies, the physician F. B. Hahn. Perseveringly the farmer, teacher, and doctor joined forces, humbly seeking the Holy Spirit’s help to determine whether Hiram’s revelation was from God.

Determined to let the Holy Spirit guide them, the men studied the services in God’s sanctuary on earth, the tabernacle built by the Israelites. Surrounded by a courtyard, the sanctuary was divided into two separate rooms: the holy place and the Most Holy Place. In the courtyard and the holy place the priests daily presented sacrifices on behalf of the Israelites when they sinned. However, the Most Holy Place, in which God gave visible evidence of His presence, was entered once a year by the high priest alone. On this day, the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered it to symbolically cleanse the sanctuary of the Israelites’ sins.†

Slowly the pieces of the spiritual puzzle were falling into place. But questions remained.

“What exactly does all this mean for us?” Dr. Hahn wanted to know.

“Well, for one thing, the texts we’ve found show that we were wrong about the earth being the sanctuary,” Hiram observed. “But what sanctuary is the prophecy speaking about?”

“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Dr. Hahn after a pause. “Look at Revelation 11:19: ‘And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament.'”

“That must mean that God has an original sanctuary in heaven that served as a model for the earthly one,” Hiram remarked.

“Yes,” Brother Crosier agreed. “And Hebrews 8:2 says that Jesus is ‘a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.'”

“So there’s a heavenly sanctuary in which Jesus functions very much like the Israelite high priest,” Dr. Hahn said slowly, understanding the full meaning of Jesus’ ministry. “In order to ‘cleanse’ the sanctuary as predicted in Daniel’s prophecy, He has left the holy place and is now in the Most Holy Place, not offering an unblemished animal, but presenting Himself as the perfect Lamb of God! He is showing once and for all that His sacrifice has completely taken away our sins.”

“And,” Brother Crosier added, “everybody who accepts Him as Savior will be called His child and saved when He comes to the earth again after finishing His heavenly ministry.”

“What a wonderful promise!” exclaimed Dr. Hahn. “Let’s thank God for helping us understand this important truth.”

Together the men bowed as Hiram prayed. “Thank You, Lord, for the work You are doing in heaven right now to free us from sin. We don’t know when You will come back to earth, but we trust that because of Your sacrifice we will be ready when that glorious event takes place!”

*All Bible texts are from the King James Version.

†See Leviticus 16.

Written by Derek C. Bowe
Illustrated by Shane L. Johnson

Leave a Comment

Night of No Return

Guide magazine only prints true stories. However, we do publish some imaginative stories on the Guide website. If you want to share your story with our online readers, click below.

Claim Your Thumbuddy

See if you can add another Thumbuddy to your collection.

Enter your claim code*