by Charles A. Monagan
May 20, 2011
10:02 AMOn Connecticut
It's the Rapture. Again.
If you haven't seen the billboards along the Connecticut highways or heard the story, Judgment Day is scheduled to happen tomorrow night, Saturday May 21, 2011, at about 6 p.m. In a nutshell (so to speak), 89-year-old Christian evangelist and radio host Harold Camping claims that he has calculated the date of The Rapture based on scripture—with The Final End of the World arriving on October 21—and through the virally goodness of the intranets, the good news of our imminent destruction has spread far and wide.
For the record, I am still trying to figure out what to wear—definitely sneakers, as eternity is a long time to be stuck in uncomfortable shoes. I also want to make sure I'm outside tomorrow night—I'd hate to be in a room with a big ceiling fan when I start ascending heavenward. And I can't be driving or operating heavy machinery as I'd hate for others to adversely affected by my sudden departure ....
For some reason, my wife doesn't think I need to be concerned about these details. (Gonna miss her!)
Anyway, this certainly isn't the first time that a man of the cloth has go on public record suggesting that the prophecies of ultimate destruction were about to be fulfilled. Heck (gotta be careful in the last hours here!), Camping himself predicted back in 1992 in his book entitled 1994? that the world would in end in September 1994. (He blamed it on bad math when it didn't happen.) And although more recent failed predictions have been well documented, I recently came across a lesser-known doomsday event from about 215 years ago.
In a 1905 issue of The Connecticut Magazine, Emily S. Gilman tells the story of "An Eccentric Character of The Old Days," a Rev. David Austin, who also made such bold predictions. Austin, who had been born in New Haven in 1759 (or so) and graduated Yale in 1779, was eventually installed as pastor in a Presbyterian church in Elizabethtown, N.J. While "somewhat eccentric," he served the parish well until he came down with scarlet fever in 1795. He spent the months during his recovery intensely scrutinizing the prophesies, and from his fevered mind came the revelation that the second coming of Christ would be on the third sabbath of May 1796.
Well, when he announced this discovery to his congregation, it caused quite a stir, as you might imagine. During the weeks leading up to the big day, attendance at Austin's church increased, with believers even coming from nearby towns to hear him speak—and do a little last-minute repenting, no doubt.
And then, from the article:
"On Sunday morning, May 15 the sun rose bright and clear, and a multitude of people filled the church to overflowing. Some distance peals of thunder were heard during the day, but the hours rolled away without any signs or portents, and when night came most of the congregation were convinced that it had all been a delusion.
"Not so the preacher; he readily found reasons why the Lord had delayed his coming, and continued to proclaim the near approach of Christ's personal reign upon the Earth. He believed himself called, as was John the Baptist, to be the forerunner of the Messiah and bring in the glorious millennium. He proposed to establish a new church, independent of all ecclesiastical control and . . . his congregation accordingly petitioned the Presbytery to dissolve the relation between pastor and people, Mr. Austin acceding to the request.
"The Presbytery expressed the kindest feelings towards Mr. Austin while they regarded his enthusiasm and delusion as unfitting him for usefulness in the gospel ministry."
Austin returned to New Haven to pursue his grand plans, but they failed miserably, and not able to pay for them, he spent time in debtor's jail. After his release, his eccentric beliefs got him into a few more predicaments with both church leadership and local authorities, but eventually, he was able to work through his issues, and once again, became an admired preacher. He was awarded the pulpit of a congregational church in Bozrah, where he served in good stead for many years.
Shortly before his his death in 1831, Austin admitted that "he had been mistaken in his interpretation of prophecy." He suggested that "the wheels of providence had moved more slowly" than expected.
Wonder if we will hear a similar excuse on Sunday morning?
It's the Rapture. Again.