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Sylvester Bliss

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Bliss, Sylvester (1814–1863)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: January 11, 2023

Sylvester Bliss was editor of the Millerite periodical Signs of the Times, later Advent Herald, and an author noted especially for works countering criticisms from clerics and academia.

Family Heritage

Sylvester Bliss was born in Tolland, Connecticut, on June 19, 1814, to John and Sally Abbott Bliss. John was a farmer. There were three girls and a boy in their family: Sally Olivia (b. 1810), Mary “Polly” Eliza (b. 1812), Sylvester (b. 1814) and Emeline Elizabeth (b. 1816). Emeline died at age 24 in 1840.1 Sylvester had every reason to show interest in the Second Advent of Christ, which would re-unite him with his younger sister.

Sylvester received an education in the liberal arts and, as a young man, showed talent along literary lines. He taught school in Hartford, Connecticut, near his family farm at Tolland.2 He was a member of the Congregationalist Church,3 which was the state of Connecticut’s established church until 1818.

Sylvester married Maria Steele on August 3, 1837, in Hartford.4 Six generations prior to Sylvester Bliss, his ancestor, Thomas Bliss (d. 1640), was apparently one of the Puritans who transferred from Cambridge near Boston, Massachusetts, and among the pioneers of Hartford in 1636.5

Millerite Editor and Author

Bliss’s interest in William Miller’s preaching of the imminent Second Advent prompted him to submit articles to a Millerite periodical, Signs of the Times (later Advent Herald), located in Boston. His first article, one about the millennium, was published on the front page of the June 29, 1842, issue.6 Later that year Bliss and his family moved from Hartford to Boston so that he could join the editorial staff of the periodical. His name first appears on the masthead with editors Joshua Himes and Josiah Litch in November 1842.7 He was given charge of the office when these men were away speaking at camp meetings and conferences.8

Bliss, too, occasionally travelled for preaching engagements,9 but writing and editing became his primary contribution to the Millerite cause. Isaac Wellcome wrote of him: “He was a devout, conscientious Christian, and endowed with a discriminating mind which enabled him to select, generally, the best intellectual, moral and spiritual food for the readers of the paper. . . . He was studious to avoid sensational, unreliable, fabulous floating articles and speculative, groundless opinions of political and religious novices and erratics.”10

Bliss published a major article on April 5, 1843, in Signs of the Times under the title “The End of the Prophetic Periods.” It avoided setting a day or month for the Second Advent but definitely argued for the event to occur in 1843.11 The style was detailed and laborious, a characteristic of his and the periodical.

Millerite preachers were pilloried from the pulpits and in the press. Some barbs came from scholars and seminary professors. At times their criticisms were aired in Signs of the Times, and it fell to the lot of Bliss to mount a counter-offensive. Among the chief critics mentioned by Wellcome were Drs. Nathaniel Colver, Dr. Samuel Jarvis, Professor George Bush and Rev. O.E. Daggett.12 Some of Bliss’s rebuttals were republished as tracts for sale separately (see the annotated Selected Articles and Tracts by Sylvester Bliss, 1843-1853, listed below).

From May 1844 through April 1845 Bliss assisted with editing three volumes titled Advent Shield and Review. Each of these was approximately 150 pages, compendiums of articles reiterating standard Millerite views about the prophecies, resurrection, millennium, state of the dead, papacy and destruction of the world.13

After 1844

The Memoirs of William Miller, published in 1853, likely was Bliss’s most enduring literary accomplishment. He used interviews and his memory of still-recent events to construct a narrative, weaving into it a large number of extracts from Miller’s correspondence, sermons, and other papers. As one historian put it, “Bliss argued that Miller’s preaching brought genuine revivals and that his theology held much in common with the beliefs of his critics.”14

Bliss continued to serve as an assistant editor of the Advent Herald until 1860, even though his name did not appear on the masthead for much of the time. Then, he was appointed sole editor, effective with the January 7, 1860, issue, by the periodical’s new publisher, the American Millennial Association.15 This organization represented the sector of Second Adventism, known as Evangelical Adventists, that held to the belief in the immortality of the soul as generally taught in Christianity and thus rejected the teachings of the Advent Christians and Seventh-day Adventists concerning the unconscious sleep of the dead and the final annihilation of the impenitent.16

In late February 1863, Bliss contracted pneumonia and passed away at his home in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on Friday, March 6. He was 48 years old. His funeral was conducted by Rev. Dr. Thompson of the Roxbury Congregational Church where Bliss and his family regularly worshipped. His body was taken to Hartford for burial.17 In the trying hours before his death he could barely speak but he managed to whisper the hymn “Just As I Am Without One Plea . . . O, Lamb of God, I Come to Thee.” His fellow editor, Litch, wrote of him, “No matter how violent the attack upon either him or his cause he was seldom betrayed into an angry or uncourteous word.” He was “the magnanimous opponent and the Christian gentleman . . . kind, affable and cheerful.”18

Henry Bliss (1843-1917), the Bliss’s eldest son, was 19 and a soldier in the Civil War when his father died. Their young son, Sherwood (1851-1887), was 11 19 Maria Steele Bliss lived another 45 years before passing away in Hartford in 1908 at age 89.20

Selected Articles and Tracts by Sylvester Bliss, 1843-1853

“Dr. Jarvis—A Goliath in the Field.” A series of articles to contradict claims made about Miller’s views.21

The Chronology of the Bible. Tract proposing 6,000 years of time from Creation to 1843 that will usher in the Millenium.22

“Who Shall Decide When Doctors Disagree?” Article about the views of Drs. Weeks and Breckenridge and John Dowling, unsigned but in the style of Bliss.23

“Six Thousand Years.” Article proposing the year 1843 for the Second Advent and the start of the Millennium. Signed by B[liss].24

“Review of Isaac Taylor Hinton.” The first of a series of articles discussing Hinton’s interpretation of the Book of Daniel, unsigned but in the style of Bliss.25

The Reasons of Our Hope. Tract about Miller’s views.26

Inconsistencies of Colver’s Literal Fulfilment of Daniel’s Prophecies. Tract.27

Exposition of Matthew 24. Tract elaborating on the Parable of the Ten Virgins and how it applies to the Millerite message and the Second Advent.28

Review of O.E. Daggett’s Sermon. Tract avowing the Second Advent doctrine.29

Exposition of the 14th of Zechariah. Tract containing an eschatological view.30

Because of Our Hope. Tract.31

Review of Prof. Bush on the Resurrection. Defense of a literal resurrection.32

Paraphrase of Daniel XI and XII. Published 1844.33

Questions on the Book of Daniel. Published 1846.

Analysis of Sacred Chronology. Published 1850.

Sources

Advent Herald (Signs of the Times). Adventist Digital Library. Accessed November 6, 2022. https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/islandora/search/advent%20herald?type=edismax

Advent Shield and Review. Adventist Digital Library. Accessed November 18, 2022. https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-14810/advent-shield-and-review.

B[liss], [Sylvester]. “A Temporal Millennium—a Soul-destroying Doctrine.” Signs of the Times, June 29, 1842.

Bliss, Sylvester. “The End of the Prophetic Periods.” Signs of the Times, April 5, 1843.

Bliss, Sylvester. Memoirs of William Miller. Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1853.

Litch, Josiah. “Death of Sylvester Bliss.” Advent Herald, March 17, 1863.

Flood, Kevin. “The Founding of Hartford.” Hartford History.net, 1999-2018. Retrieved from https://www.hartfordhistory.net/founding-of-hartford.html.

“Maria Steele Bliss.” Find A Grave. Memorial ID 15785574, September 18, 2006. Accessed November 6, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15785574/maria-bliss.

“Sylvester Bliss.” FamilySearch. Accessed November 6, 2022. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/LHR7-DWP.

Wellcome, Isaac C. History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People. Boston, MA: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1874.

Notes

  1. “Sylvester Bliss,” FamilySearch, accessed November 6, 2022, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/LHR7-DWP.

  2. Josiah Litch, “Death of Sylvester Bliss,” Advent Herald, March 17, 1863, 68-69.

  3. Isaac C. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People (Boston, MA: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1874), 227.

  4. “Sylvester Bliss,” FamilySearch.

  5. J.S. Bliss, “Tribute to Sylvester Bliss,” Advent Herald, April 7, 1863, 91; Kevin Flood, “The Founding of Hartford,” Hartford History.net, 1999-2018, https://www.hartfordhistory.net/founding-of-hartford.html.

  6. [Sylvester] B[liss], “A Temporal Millennium—a Soul-destroying Doctrine,” Signs of the Times, June 29, 1842, 97-98.

  7. Masthead, Signs of the Times, November 23, 1842, 77.

  8. For example, see, “Special Notice,” Signs of the Times, February 15, 1843, 176.

  9. See for example, “The Exeter Campmeeting,” Signs of the Times, October 4, 1843, 56; Letters, Sylvester Bliss to Apollos Hale, Advent Herald, May 22, 1844, 124-125.

  10. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, 227.

  11. Sylvester Bliss, “The End of the Prophetic Periods,” Signs of the Times, April 5, 1843, 33-35, 37.

  12. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message,, 228.

  13. Advent Shield and Review, Adventist Digital Library, accessed November 18, 2022, https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-14810/advent-shield-and-review.

  14. Gary Land, “The Historians and the Millerites: An Historiographical Essay,” in the posthumous publication of Everett N. Dick, William Miller and the Advent Crisis (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1994), xiv. Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1853) can be accessed in PDF at “Books,” General Conference Online Archives, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Books/Forms/AllItems.aspx.

  15. Litch, “Death of Sylvester Bliss.”

  16. George R. Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1993), 290-291.

  17. Josiah Litch, “Death of the Editor,” Advent Herald, March 10, 1863, 60.

  18. Litch, “Death of Sylvester Bliss.”

  19. Ibid.

  20. “Maria Steele Bliss,” Find A Grave, Memorial ID 15785574, September 17, 2006, accessed November 6, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15785574/maria-bliss.

  21. “Dr. Jarvis—A Goliath in the Field,” Signs of the Times, July 26, 1842, 166.

  22. “New Work,” Signs of the Times, October 4, 1842, 54.

  23. “Who Shall Decide When Doctors Disagree?” Signs of the Times, October 18, 1843, 66.

  24. [Sylvester] B[liss], “Six Thousand Years,” Signs of the Times, November 22, 1843, 113-114.

  25. “Review of Isaac Taylor Hinton,” Signs of the Times, November 29, 1843, 124-125.

  26. “New Works,” Signs of the Times, January 17, 1844, 184.

  27. “Cheap Library,” Signs of the Times, November 15, 1843, 112.

  28. Ibid.

  29. “Cheap Library,” Advent Herald, February 14, 1844, 16.

  30. Ibid.

  31. “Our Late Publications,” Advent Herald, March 20, 1844, 56.

  32. Litch, “Death of Sylvester Bliss.”

  33. This and the following two works are found at Adventist Digital Library.

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Hook, Milton. "Bliss, Sylvester (1814–1863)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 11, 2023. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BILE.

Hook, Milton. "Bliss, Sylvester (1814–1863)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 11, 2023. Date of access June 17, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BILE.

Hook, Milton (2023, January 11). Bliss, Sylvester (1814–1863). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 17, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BILE.