In the previous issue of the Ministry, information was presented as to the certainty of the sun and moon phenomena's occurring in conjunction with each other on May 19, 1780. In this article, material will be furnished from some original sources dealing with the moon and its red appearance on that memorable night, also the possible natural causes of the phenomenon and the prophetic significance of the event.
1. Blood-read appearance of moon. First, the moon and its red appearance on that night. Many of our workers are familiar with the following statement by George I. Butler in regard to the blood-red appearance of the moon, in fulfillment of Revelation 6 :12:
"Milo Bostwick, writing from Camden, New Jersey, March 3, 1848, says, 'The 19th of May, in the year I780, I well remember. I was then in my ifith year. The morning was clear and pleasant, but somewhere about 8 o'clock my father came into the house and said there was an uncommon appearance in the sun. . . . My father and mother, who were pious, thought the day of judgment was near. They sat up that night, during the latter part of which they said the darkness disappeared, and then the sky seemed as usual, but the moon, which was at its full, had the appearance of blood. The alarm that it caused, and the frequent talk about it, impressed it deeply on my mind." (Italics mine.)
The Boston Gazette states that "the hemisphere for several days had been greatly obscured with smoak and vapour, so that the sun and moon appeared unusually red." ' (Italics mine.) One preacher, Joshua Spalding, who saw the event, is quoted as saying: "'We have seen the appearance in the heavens of "blood and fire and pillars of smoke."... We have seen wonderful and alarming phenomena of darkness in the sun and moon.' "'
Mrs. Levi C. McKinstry, a well-known religious lecturer who spoke to large audiences in England during the latter part of the nineteenth century, states in her history of the four great world empires : "We have learned that on the night following that dark day the moon failed to give her light, and the darkness was intense. It is stated that toward morning the 'moon was distinguished, but that it was so red that it had the appearance of blood." (Italics mine.)
Woodward, in summing up what he thinks are probable natural causes of the phenomena, stated that for a few days prior to the event, owing to great fires, "The sun and moon exhibited an unusual redness in their color, with the further fact that this [red] obscuration increased as they [the sun and moon] approached the horizon."
The Lord's messenger makes a statement in her book, "The Great Controversy," with which we are familiar : "After midnight the darkness disappeared, and the moon, when first visible, had the appearance of blood."'
2. Possible Natural Causes. And HOW we will discuss the possible natural causes of the phenomena of May 19, 5780. Woodward, in his work "The Dark Day," gives an elaborate discussion of what he believes to be natural causes of the phenomena ; which may be summarized as follows:
Air of a smoky and vaporous character. . . . Great fires . . . air decreasing in weight . . . causing the fall of the suspended vapors . . . to a lower level, where they would more directly and completely obscure the rays of the sun. . . . During the darkness when most complete there were visible a considerable number of strata of clouds, one above another, the lower strata being very near the earth. . . . Much rain before and during; air had become saturated with moisture enough to cause heavy clouds. . . . Smoke apparently abundant in the air that day, since a yellow or brassy color was the predominating hue. . . . Rain water caught in the tubs . . . was thick, dark, and sooty ; it had a light scum which seemed to resemble the black ashes of burnt leaves. . . . Rapid fall of the barometer that day ; the smoke in upper air descended near the earth and combined with vapor, and naturally produced an unusual darkness. . . . Rain washed foreign substances from the air, leaving traces of them everywhere. Then things lighted up.
Summing up these natural causes, Woodward asks a question about the causes of the dark day and night, and then answers his own question as follows :
"What are they, if not supernatural? I answer : If it is possible to know the causes of any event, then the known causes of that darkness were (r) vast accumulations in the atmosphere of smoke from burning forests, (2) several strata of clouds formed after a period of dry weather, (3) these two obscuring media combined and brought very near the earth because of a falling barometer, (4) with resultant darkness lasting until clouds and smoke were dissipated by the wind. Nothing more supernatural than every cloudy or smoky day."6
The Boston Gazette, from which we have already quoted, has this to say about that which might have caused the phenomena : "The vast body of smoak from the woods which had been burning for many days, mixing with the common exhalations from the earth and water and condensed by the action of winds from opposite points, may perhaps be sufficient causes to produce the surprising darkness."
3. Prophetic Significance of Date. And now the third and last part—the most thrilling aspect of the story—the prophetic significance of May 19, 1780. It was held at that time, and since then down till the present time, that this dual-natured event occurred at the exact chronological time according to the prophecies in Matthew, Luke, Revelation, Joel, and Isaiah. Woodward, who argues so strongly for its natural causes, says:
"It makes no difference if the darkness was not supernatural. Christ did not say it would be. Even if produced by natural causes, it must be accepted as the fulfillment of Christ's prediction, since it came at the right time—just when He said it would come, 'immediately' after the great tribulation. Preach that, dropping all reference to the 'supernatural,' and the preaching of the 'signs' will be as effective as ever."7
Mrs. McKinstry, already cited, has this to say about the event's coming at the right time chronologically:
"But some are disposed to set this sign, which was to mark the end of the tribulation, aside. They say, 'There have been many dark days in the world's history, and this was no more significant than others.' It does not make any difference if there have been ten thousand dark days in the world's history; only one occurred at the proper time to mark the end of the tribulation, and that one was on the 19th of May, A. D., 1780.
"Ministers went into their pulpits on the following Sabbath [Sunday] and referred to this darkness as the fulfillment of Christ's words, 'immediately after the tribulation, etc.' "8
One minister, Elam Potter, in a sermon delivered May 28, 1780, called attention to the Biblical forecast in Matthew 24 in the following words :
"Especially I mention that wonderful darkness on the igth of May. Then, as in our text, the sun was darkened ; such a darkness as probably was never known before since the crucifixion of our Lord. . . . Some people were in a sort of dismay, and thought the day of judgment was drawing on. A great part of the following night also was singularly dark. The moon, though in the full, gave no light, as in our text. For my part, I really consider the darkness as one of the prodigies foretold in Matthew 24 :29 and designed for our admonition and warning."9
It seems evident that regardless of the causes of the darkeriing of the sun and the moon of May 59, 1780, the eternal fact remains that the sun was darkened and the moon withheld her light in harmony with divinely inspired prophecy which foretold the occurrence of this dual-natured event at the exact time chronologically when the phenomenon itself happened—"in those days, after that tribulation" (Mark 13 : 24), after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and before the star shower of 1833 (Rev. 6:12).
1 Butler, G. I., "Facts of the Times," pp. 159, 16o. (Review and Herald, Battle Creek, Mich., 1885.)
2 Boston Gazette, May zo, 1780.
3 E. P. Woodward, "The Dark Day of May 19. 1780," p. 67. (Portland, Maine.)
4 Mrs. Levi C. McKinstry, "The World's Great Empires," pp. 430, 432. (Boston, 1830)
5 Mrs. E. G. White, "The Great Controversy," p. 308. (Mountain View, California, 1911.)
6 Woodward, op. cit., pp. 27-35.
7 Id., P. I02.
8 McKinstry, op. cit., pp. 410-412.
9 Woodward, op. cit., pp. 9o, 9r.
Devins, R. M., "Our First Century," C. A. Nichols Co., Chicago, 1879.
Henry, Matthew, "An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments," Vol. III, Partridge and Co., London.
Loughborough, J. N., "Rise and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists," Battle Creek, Michigan, 1891
Tait, A. 0., "Heralds of the Morning," Pacific Press, Mountain View, California, 1905.
White, James, "The Coming King," Echo Publishing Co., Australia, 1898.