Hiram Edson is best know in Seventh-day Adventist History as being the one to whom the sanctuary in heaven was introduced to while he was walking through a cornfield. He then introduced the sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment message to the church.
Not very much is known about Hiram Edson’s early life before he became a follower of the Millerite advent message. One of Hiram’s descendants was an English clergyman named Elijah Edson, who had immigrated to Boston in order to escape religious persecution in Europe. Hiram was born December 30, 1806, in Jefferson County, New York.
Edson was a Methodist farmer when he married Miss Effa Chrisler on December 2, 1830. As a Methodist he was a deeply spiritual man. After five years, in 1835, they bought a 56-acre farm near Port Gibson, New York. Effa died in May of 1839, leaving Edson with three children—George, 8, Susan, 6, and Belinda, 4. He so greatly felt the need of a mother for his small children that he remarried in about six months time. He married 23-year-old Esther Persons in October 1839 and she became his second wife.
Edson and Esther’s first child, Viah Ophelia was born June 5, 1841; but she was only with them for about a year before she was laid in the grave. Their second daughter was born June 2, 1843, and was also named Viah Ophelia, taking the place of their first baby. Their third and last child, Lucy Jane, was born 13 years later on July 30, 1856. This completed Edson’s family.
Hiram Edson accepted the Advent message sometime during 1843 when William Miller was preaching under his great tent which he pitched in Central New York at that time. His daughter Ophelia mentioned that her parents accepted the message from William Miller himself. There were meetings held in Rochester in June of 1843 and later in November of the same year. Miller spent ten days lecturing in each city that he travelled to. It was at one of these two meetings that the Edson family joined the Millerite movement. His home in Port Gibson soon became a home church for the believers of the region. A small company of Adventist believers mostly farmers, lived in this area, and they looked to Edson as their leader. His farm was about a mile south of town. It was at that place that the Adventists in the area gathered on October 22, 1844 to await the coming of the King. But Christ did not come as they expected.
Hiram Edson earnestly believed the message of William Miller that Jesus would come on October 22, 1844. In the aftermath of the disappointment of 1844, Hiram Edson wrote; “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept and wept, till the day dawn.”
When October 23, 1844, dawned and the little group of Millerites huddled in Edson’s farm had managed to calm down somewhat following their outpouring of grief, Edson led them to his barn. Here they gathered and spent the morning in prayer. After this season of prayer, with the assurance of the Lord’s presence, he and Brother Crosier left to encourage some of the other brethren in the faith. They walked through the cornfield to avoid the mocking jeers of the neighbors who had refused to believe the advent message. Edson stopped in the field to pray once more. There, heaven was opened to his view.
Whether an impression or a vision, Edson says, “I saw distinctly, and clearly, that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth at the end of the 2,300 days, that He for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary and that He had a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth…. While I was thus standing in the midst of the field, my comrade passed on almost beyond speaking distance before missing me. He inquired why I was stopping so long. I replied, ‘The Lord was answering our morning prayer, by giving light with regard to our disappointment.’”
Edson later explained that as he was walking he felt as if a hand was laid on his shoulder and he seemed to have a vision of the heavenly sanctuary where he saw that Jesus had that very day entered into the Most Holy Place of the Heavenly Sanctuary to begin the work of judgment.
Crosier and Edson, along with their friend and neighbor Franklin B. Hahn, spent the next several weeks and months poring over their Bibles studying the themes of the sanctuary and judgment. In March of 1845, they published their findings in a small paper called “The Day Dawn”. Crosier, being a school teacher, wrote the article while Edson and his wife sold their best silverware to raise money to fund the publication and Hahn had the material published.
After the Great Disappointment, Edson became a lay minister and played an important role in supporting and reclaiming backslidden ministers. One such case was that of Samuel Rhodes whom he helped to reclaim in 1849. He also laid hands on Clarissa Bonfoey in 1850 and she was healed.
Edson worked on his farm to earn a living but the all-consuming focal point of his life was preaching the Advent message. He spent weeks and months on evangelistic tours through New York and even Canada to preach the gospel. He did some of his traveling alone but he also spent a considerable amount of time traveling with other Adventist preaches like Joseph Bates, J.N. Andrews, Frederick Wheeler, and G.W. Holt. Edson also provided support and training in ministerial work to the young J.N. Loughborough.
Edson’s early years in ministerial work were at a time when there was no formal organization to issue licenses or pay salaries. However, he was eventually ordained and issued ministerial credentials sometime between 1866 and 1875.
Edson sold his farm in 1850 and two years later the proceeds were used to purchase the Washington Hand Press that serviced the fledgling publishing house that James White set up in Rochester, New York.
By the mid-1870s, Edson had begun to slow down considerably, but, he was a dedicated Seventh-Day Adventist till the day he died. He was laid to rest in 1885 and was buried in Roosevelt, New York, in the cemetery opposite the historic Roosevelt Seventh-Day Adventist Church.