Monday, June 30, 2014

Where research starts ...

Much of our research outside Watch Tower publications starts with an educated guess. The newspaper clipping below is an example

Click Image for Full View.
Finding this article wasn't an accident. But we looked for it based on little more than a good guess. Finding a record this early is difficult, sometimes impossible. Finding this one makes me happy.

What happens next? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes this is all we find. But ... I'll look for additional record. We want to put a name to this. Who was the speaker? How long were they there? Is this mentioned in Zion's Watch Tower?

You can do this too. There are many newspaper archives on the Internet. Try phrases and names and ideas. Often you won't find anything helpful, but you may. Pass it on, even if you think we have it or think it's trivial.

Some of the most interesting discussion has come from what first seemed unimportant. We return again and again to original source material, especially Zion's Watch Tower. Details that seemed unimportant or puzzling become clear if we reassess and review. There is no secret here. Any determined person can do this. Try it.

Principles of Opperation

            I understand that those who visit our blog arrive here with differing viewpoints and experiences – and with differing views of Russell, the Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses. You are entitled to your views, and, while in another context, I may debate them with you, none of our blog contributors will debate doctrine here. Our principal moderator is Dr. de Vienne. Her word is final.

            The world is often an unhappy place. We are sorry for your unhappy experiences, and we’ve had our own. In the last eighteen months two or three have come here with religious or personal issues. This blog is not the place to vent those. We can’t weigh the merits of your complaint. We weren’t witnesses to your difficulty. And this is a history blog.

            Please don’t come here believing we owe you anything more than courtesy and do not come expecting us to hurt you. If you come here expecting hurt, you will find it even if it is unintended. If you assume a belligerent attitude, you’re views and questions will find no place on this blog. I’ve instructed our resident Pixie to delete your comments and additional comments by you will not appear no matter what the content.

            If you’ve been hurt by religion, some self-analysis may be in order. You may want to revisit the issue, especially if it is an old one. If you reject what some call the authoritarian structure of your religion, you are free to do so. The three of us who edit this blog cannot address those issues. Jesus suggests you talk the issues out with the one who offended you. Even if the issue is decades old, it is not too late.

            If you don’t want to live by your religion’s standards, that is your choice. This is not the place to vent. Comments that fall into that area don’t show up here. The comments that concern me most are those from people who are suffering in some way. Because most of those are anonymous, we can do nothing to alleviate it. Explore your resources. I’m a great believer in prayer. It works. For those who are Witnesses, I recommend a now very-old Watchtower article from 1958 entitled Your Prayers Tell on You. It is, I think, the best article on prayer ever to come out of the Watchtower.

            In the past we’ve had three at least who believed themselves more knowledgeable than we are. If you are, share your knowledge. We share. You should too. Rude comments won’t show up in the comment trail. We’ve had one who believed himself a true genius saying he was in the top 99 percent nationally. Almost everyone is in the top 99 percent. Think about it. Rachael and Jerome are – to borrow a line from a very old movie – smart cookies. There is no lack of genius on this blog if that’s the measure.

            Our measure isn’t personal genius. It’s adept, accurate presentation of facts. If we sometimes plod to get the facts, that’s okay. If we depend on others to rub our nose in them, that’s good. It’s the facts that matter, not how we get to them.

            We don’t acknowledge every comment. If you come here for personal validation, we probably can’t give it to you. The Internet is a very poor place in which to seek that. We appreciate the comments we get. We moderate out about five percent of the comments because of the issues stated above.

            Those with personal issues, no matter what they are, have my deepest sympathy. As a Christian, I suggest you peer deeply and prayerfully into the issue, even though that is always a painful experience. As a fellow human, I suggest you find a confidant who will give you honest feedback. Resist blaming God for the actions of his human worshipers. If I could help you at this distance, I would. It is impracticable, and that’s not what this blog is about. If we don’t separate the blog from other issues, it loses its value.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

R. Cossar

Mentioned in reprints page 541. We need help identifying him. He might be Robert R. Cossars an immigrant from Canada, later resident in Niagara Falls, New York. He may have been born in Scotland. We have no firm proof of this. Can you help?

A note.

The section about interested clergy will move to an earlier chapter. It does not fit well here, but it does elsewhere. That chatper exists mostly as notes.

Russell Quoted from this hymn in 1882

It was song 4 in Songs of the Bride, and it appears in Watch Tower songbooks until 1928

More work in progress

This is very rough draft. Some of it will change dramatically I think. But this is where we are now. Just remember this is very rough draft and work in progress. In the past another quoted from some of our work that was equally rough that we later revised. Our corrected research appears in Separate Identity, Volume 1, their web page is in error because they failed to take seriously a similar notice. 

Herewith (at Mr. Schulz' insistence) is more of current work, even if it isn't nearly finished:

View of Religion 

            A committee report delivered to the thirtieth annual YMCA convention in October 1882 reported Zion’s Watch Tower as “of doubtful character owing to its opposition to church organization.”[1] Russell, and Storrs before him, didn’t oppose organization at the local level, but they opposed denominational organization. They saw it as “Babylon,” the whore of Revelation which they interpreted as nominal Christianity. Russell defined the True Church in the October 1882 Watch Tower.[2] His article, entitled “The Ekklesia,” addressed two issues: Barbour’s claims to divine appointment and the definition of the true church. Many falsely claimed to be the true Church of Christ: 

To-day there are many organizations claiming to be the church, and having various bonds of  union; but we wish to know, upon the authority of God’s Word, what ekklesia, body, or church, Jesus established, and what are its bonds of union; secondly, we wish to show that every Christian should belong to that church; thirdly, the injurious effects of joining the wrong ekklesia or church; and fourthly, having joined the right church, what are the results of losing our membership. 

Russell believed the true church was organized by Jesus. It was “the little company of disciples who had consecrated earthly time, talents and life a sacrifice to God.” They were “members of one society” with “laws and government, and consequently a head or recognized ruling authority.” They were united by “bonds of love and common interest.” Jesus was their head, their captain. They shared “hopes, fears, joys and sorrows, and aims … and thus they had a far more perfect union of heart than could possibly be had from a union on the basis of any man-made creed.” It was an organization “of the Spirit;” their law was love and they were under the “law of the Sprit” as “expressed in the life, actions, and words of their Lord.”

This was an idealized view of First Century Christianity. The unity of belief and sympathy Russell postulated often existed in the breach rather than in reality. He wrote about what should have been, rather than what was. Russell and Watch Tower adherents saw the True Church in contrast to denominational structure. Russell wrote:
Thus we see the early church organized, governed, and in perfect unity and harmony under the rulership or headship of Jesus. Contrast this church organization with what now affects to be a continuance of the same – viz.: the various denominational organizations, each of which binds its members to a mental union on the basis of some creed or dogma of its own (many of them anything but lovely) and each having its own laws.

These laws emanate from their heads, or rulers and law-givers; so it is clearly seen that these present day churches, have and recognize as heads, or directing, ruling powers over them, the ancient founders of their various creeds, each contradicting the other, while their clergy, in conferences, councils, synods and presbyteries, variously interpret and enforce the “traditions of the elders” which “make void the Word of God.” These take the place of the true head of the church – Jesus – and the true teacher and guide into all truth, the Holy Spirit. … And the whole nominal system is described in the Revelation as “Babylon” – confusion – Papal mother and Protestant daughters. Will they own this to be so? No, for the lukewarm nominal church of today believes herself to be rich and increased with goods, having need of nothing; not knowing that she is wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Rev. 3:17.) … 

The True church of Christ was composed of those “fully consecrated to the doing of our Father’s will, amenable only to Christ’s will and government, recognizing and obeying none other.” It is the composite of all “saints” from the beginning of “the Gospel Age … to its close.” Jesus is “the head and ruler of the entire living church, and in every assembly where two or three meet in his name he is the head, ruler, and teacher.” Jesus teaches “by using one or more of those present as exercising the qualities of the head, or teacher; by using one or more of those present as His mouthpiece in unfolding truth, strengthening faith, encouraging hope, inspiring zeal, etc.” Russell saw himself and others prominent in the movement in this role; they functioned “just as the head of your body can call upon one member to minister to another.” He cautioned prominent preachers, saying:  

If one becomes as useful an instrument as a right hand, he should take care that he aspire not to become the head. Be not puffed up; pride will paralyze and render useless. “Be not ye called Rabbi (master, teacher) for one is your master (head) even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” And let not the least member despise his office, “for if all were one member, where ere the body?” “Nay, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary”  “God hath set the members every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him.” …. 

It is evident that if you have given up all your will, talent, time, etc., you are recognized by Jesus as a follower, and member of the ekklesia, or body of which he is the head. But says one: Must I not join some organization on earth, assent to some creed, and have my name written on earth? No; remember that Jesus is your pattern and teacher, and neither in his words nor acts will you find any authority for binding yourselves with creeds and traditions of the elders, which all tend to make the word of God of none effect, and bring you under a bondage which will hinder your growth in grace and knowledge … . But say some: If it is not proper to unite with any of the present nominal churches, would it not be well to form a visible organization of our own? Yes, this is what we have – an organization modeled after that of the early church. We think we have come back to primitive simplicity. The Lord Jesus alone is our head or lawgiver; the Holy Spirit is our interpreter and guide into truth; our names are all written in heaven; we are bound together by love and common interest. 

Do you inquire--how shall we know one another? We reply, how could we help knowing one another when the Spirit of our Master is made manifest in word and act, and manner and look? Yes, the living faith, the unfeigned love, the long-suffering meekness, the childlike simplicity coupled with the constancy and zeal of maturity, make manifest the sons of God, and we need no earthly record, for the names of all such are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

            Members of the True Church visit the sick, finance the Lord’s work, are willing to “sacrifice reputation” and suffer “the reproach of the world and a degenerate nominal church.” Russell addressed the issue of the “disorderly” among them. Some sought organization to confront the issue. His reply was: “If we have no organization such as we see about us, how can we free ourselves from such, as the Lord requires us to do? We answer: Do just as Jesus and Paul directed.” There are, he wrote, “various degrees of advancement among the individual members, and Paul says (1 Thes. 5:14,) some are feeble-minded, comfort them; some are weak, support them; but while you should be patient toward all, warn the disorderly (those who are drifting away from the true spirit of Christ). Don’t mistake the disorderly for the weak, and comfort them; nor for the feebleminded, and support them.” He advised applying Jesus’ counsel at Matthew 18:15, 18.

Christ’s church “has its evangelists, pastors and teachers appointed and directed by the Lord.” There was no Apostolic Succession, but they were anointed by Holy Spirit to preach. He restated the General Priesthood of All Believers doctrine, writing that Jesus has “all the members of the body to preach … and it is the duty of every member of the body to exercise his office for the edification of the other members.”

Russell seldom concisely explained doctrines such as this. He believed direct statements tended to close ears. So if one finds this article prolix, it is not surprising. Put bluntly, Russell rejected creedal churches because they were populated by those who proved false to their obligations to God and brethren. The churches were worldly and not spiritual. Their creeds stifled scriptural inquiry, and, though he does not say so in this article, rejected his key doctrines. Most of this article considers mutual obligations. It is commentary on the shift in the post Civil War shift in American religion to secular interests and the adoption of misunderstood Darwinism with its idea of progress rather than the need for divine redemption. Teachers were known by their fruits and by subjection to Christ. Substituting oneself for Christ, as he believed Barbour had done, marked on as outside the fellowship. At the article’s end, he retuned to the contrast he saw between the true and the false church:

How complete is the organization of the church of Christ with its heaven-written, love-bound and Spirit-ruled membership, and how sad the error of mistaking the nominal for the real church! … It would indeed, be a dreadful calamity to lose our membership in the true church or body of Christ. And no member is out of this danger except when keeping a vigilant watch over the old nature, counted dead, lest it come to life again, and assert itself in the form of pride, selfishness, envy, evil-speaking – or what not? But if filled with love (the love that prompts to sacrifice) and clothed with humility, and under cover of the redeeming blood, we are safe in the church (body), having the assurance that it is our “Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.” … 

We may have our names cast out as evil by those of the nominal church, and yet “rejoice and be exceeding glad because our names are written in heaven.” They may frown upon you and despitefully use you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, or they may seek to win you back by flattery, saying they cannot afford to lose your influence—you could do so much good by remaining among them. Oh, how necessary in this “evil day” is the faith-- That bears unmoved the world’s dread frown, Nor heeds its flattering smile; That seas of trouble cannot drown, Nor Satan’s arts beguile.”  

            Belief in the guidance by Holy Spirit is New Testament doctrine, and it was characteristic of Christian sects, especially the socially conservative, in this era. It remains so among Christians who truly believe. For instance, The Christian Workers Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute, issued a call for world-wide prayer signed by prominent clergy, among them James Gray, Robert Russell, A. T. Robertson and R. A. Torrey.  The believed, said their joint letter, that they “were led by the Spirit of God to make this recommendation.”[3]

Early in 1883 someone asked Russell: “Would not an earnest, aggressive organization (or sect), built upon scriptural lines, be the best means of spreading and publishing the real Good Tidings? We must have fellowship and sympathy. Union is strength. It is not the skirmishers that win the battle, but the disciplined and solid battalions.” Russell suggested otherwise: 

We believe that a visible organization, and the adopting of some particular name, would tend to increase our numbers and make us appear more respectable in the estimation of the world. The natural man can see that a visibly organized body, with a definite purpose, is a thing of more or less power; therefore, they esteem the various organizations, from which we have come out, in obedience to the Master’s call. But the natural man cannot understand how a company of people, with no organization which they can see, is ever going to accomplish anything. As they look upon us, they regard us simply as a few scattered skirmishers – a “peculiar people” – with very peculiar ideas and hopes, but not worthy of special notice. 

But, though it is impossible for the natural man to see our organization … we trust that you can see that the true Church is most effectually organized, and in the best possible working order …. The Apostle Paul urges all to unity of faith and purpose (Phil. 3:15, 16 – Diaglott.) All led by the same Spirit may and do come to a knowledge of the same truth. Under our Captain, all the truly sanctified, however few or far separated in person, are closely united by the Spirit of Christ, in faith, hope and love; and, in following the Master’s command, are moving in solid battalions for the accomplishment of his purposes. … 

Recognizing this organization, which is of the Spirit, and desiring no assimilation whatever with the worldly, who cannot see or understand it, we are quite willing to bear the reproach of a peculiar people. We always refuse to be called by any other name than that of our Head – Christians – continually claiming that their can be no division among those continually led by his Spirit and example as made known through his Word. 

We disown none of our Lord’s dear children. The weakest child of the household of faith (in Christ, our Redeemer) we gladly recognize as our brother. Some, in ignorance of their privilege of the communion of saints, are mixed with the various worldly organizations, to their great detriment. Though we cannot follow them there, we gladly welcome them when they come among us. …[4] 

            Much as Campbellites had before them, Watch Tower adherents saw themselves as restored to New Testament doctrine and practice. This gave them a distinct identity. Russell addressed this in October 1883..


[1]               Associated as Christians: Buffalo, New York, Evening News, October 11, 1882.
[2]               C. T. Russell: The Ekklesia, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ October 1882, page 5.
[3              A Call for World-Wide Prayer, The Christian Workers Magazine¸ March 1917, page 529.
[4]               C. T. Russell: Questions and Answers, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, page 6.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

We get ...

We get about 100 visits a day. It seems to me that out of that 100 visits, at least one helpful comment would show up. If you have a comment, even if it is only, "Keep up the good work!" We'd appreciate it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Incomplete fragment of a rough draft

I'm posting this at Mr. Schulz' request. He is eternally hopeful that additional helpful thoughts might be forthcoming. If you have comments or thoughts, please do make them.

Two issues attached to the earliest congregations and small fellowships: Their self identity, and how outsiders identified them. Russell and many of his earliest associates came from traditions that rejected any name but Christian. They saw sectarianism as of the Devil. That left them nameless. Augustus Bergner told The New York Sun that he belonged “to a company of Christians who have no common name. We are not Second Adventists, and we are not the ‘Holiness’ or “Higher Life’ sect.”[1]

Most if not all early fellowships met in homes. When Frank Draper, an early-days evangelist spoke at Glens Falls, New York, it was in the home of W. H. Gildersleeve, who was willing to invite the public into his home.[2] There are many other examples of home-churches, but most of that history is more suitable for the third book in this series.

Individual congregations experimented with names. Before the publication of The Plan of the Ages, groups were so small that they left little record. Most of the congregational names that have come down to us are from outside the period we cover in these two volumes, but we should note some examples. The newly-formed congregation at Salem, Oregon, called themselves “The Church of the Living God,” a Biblical phrase. They met in the Women’s Christian Temperance Hall.[3] Believers in Akron, Ohio, organized regular meetings in late 1902. A representative told a reporter that they “may be called Dawn Students, or member of the Church of the Living God.” Their meetings were held in the homes of members.[4] The Cedar Rapids congregation used it too, as did W. Hope Hay, a Watch Tower representative.[5] When the Scranton, Pennsylvania, congregations was formed they used the name The Watch Tower Bible Class. Meetings were held in the home of George W. Hessler.[6] When Russell spoke there, the press release used drawn out phrasing heavy laden with adjectives: “Readers and students of the ‘Millennial Dawn’ series and all others who are interest in the subject of the pre-millennial advent.”

            In Albany, New York, Believers in the Restitution met in Fredrick J. Clapham’s home at 288 First Street. Earlier, at least one meeting was held in a “Bro. Fletcher’s home.”[7]

            Outsiders were pressed to find descriptors. When Samuel Williams, one of the organizers of the Huston, Texas, congregation preached there in 1903, The Huston Daily Post described the movement as “those of Mr. Williams’ faith,” attaching no other name. Earlier The Post described it as Millennial Dawn faith.[8] This difficulty continued for some years. In 1909 someone asked Russell: “By what name would you suggest that the local classes advertise their meetings, so as to avoid the confusion of a multiplicity of titles, such as: “Millennial Dawn, “Believers in the Atonement,” “Believers in the Precious Blood, “Bible Students,” etc.” Russell’s answer is illuminating:

It is a difficult matter to know how to advertise, not for ourselves, but difficult to keep from being misunderstood by the people. “Church of God”; “Church of the Living God”; “Church of Christ.” Any of those names would suit us very well, and we would have no objections to them, but we find that there are various denominations who have appropriated those titles, not that we think they have a right to apply them to themselves, but we would like to live in peace. It is a difficult matter to decide, and each class will have to do that for themselves.[9] 

            In his view they were to body of Christ, and while true sheep may be found within other churches, the various denominations were not of the Body of Christ. They were false religions. 

Clergymen and Lay Preachers 

            From the earliest days some clergy were attracted to the Watch Tower message. As we observed in volume one, abandoning previous affiliation was difficult because it meant giving up regular income. So we meet two classes of clergy: Those who suffered the consequences of their faith, and those who flirted with the message, believing all or part of it, but who did not become adherents. We should profile some of these. 

J. W. Ferrell

            Sometime near July 1883, a Baptist minister from Pittsburg, Texas was “excluded” from the church for teaching Watch Tower doctrines. Baptists in Texas were a fractious lot, inclined to oppose each other and embroiled in a test of influence and wills. The General Association meeting in Pittsburg in 1879 issued a glum report: 

The reports … showed a very discouraging condition …. Nothing had been prosperous. … There was great want of harmony and co-operation. Great complaints had been raised against the methods of the General Association as being partisan, and too much dominated by Waco University and the paper now called the Texas Baptist. A meeting had been held at Plano on July 3. and resolutions voicing these complaints and this dissatisfaction had been adopted. 

            A report made to the 1883 General Association conference suggested that Baptist churches were deeply troubled, “that associations have been divided in counsel, some rent asunder; churches have been torn by factions, and brethren alienated, and strife engendered.” [10]

            While the expulsion of this minister must be understood within the context of Baptist pugnaciousness, there were sufficient doctrinal differences between Baptists and Zion’s Watch Tower adherents to overheat any Baptist. The minister’s identity is uncertain. He is not named in The Watch Tower. There are some clues, however. The American Baptist Year-Book for 1870 names a J. W. Ferrell as pastor in Pittsburg.[11] 

Powell Samuel Westcott 

            In 1885 Powell Samuel Westcott, a Baptist deacon prominent in the Potsdam, New York, area, was also expelled for embracing Restitution doctrine “as taught by Brother C. T. Russell.”

We know more about Westcott then we know of the Baptist preacher at Pittsburg, Texas. He was born in Charlotte, Vermont, April 29, 1821. He served in the 244th New York Regiment as a non-commissioned officer from which he was honorably discharged on August 21, 1846. He was for a period a cheese, lard, and butter merchant in Boston. In the 1859 he moved to Potsdam, establishing a music business and teach vocal music at the Potsdam Normal School, now the State University of New York at Potsdam. He was for a few years superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School in Potsdam.[12] His obituary said he was “for many years an active member of the Baptist church.” It does not mention his association with Zion’s Watch Tower, but describes him as “a man of strong religious convictions and … and earnest and intelligent student of the Bible … a man of integrity, faithful in business and an upright citizen.” Westcott died January 3, 1893, and C. E. Bacom, a Baptist clergyman officiated.

We do not know where or how he encountered Zion’s Watch Tower. His story is not told in the Watch Tower, but in a letter from J. W. Brite to J. H. Paton. Brite says that he “was expelled from his denomination for heresy.” Though Brite was introduced to Paton’s writing through him, Westcott did not advocate Universalism.[13] We don’t know how enduring his association with Watch Tower belief was, but he was willing for his conviction to be expelled from the Baptist fellowship. We suspect that the Baptist funeral was held at the request of his wife Phebe Ann who seems to have not shared his beliefs.[14] 

Joseph Dunn 

Sympathetic clergy were faced with hard choices, and not all took a firm stand or openly expressed their beliefs. A Mrs. H. F. Duke of New York City wrote to Russell in September 1901 expressing her concern for “the spiritual welfare of Bro. Joseph Dunn.” She described him as “the one whom the Lord used as a helping hand to lead [her] into the light.” Russell returned her letter, saying he was “glad” that she was “solicitous for his welfare, and seeking to counsel with hand encourage him to the taking of right steps to place himself fully on the Lord’s side in every sense of the word.” He expressed some sympathy for Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists because they were “more independent” than most. But he warned Mrs. Duke (in a subsequent letter he addresses her as “Sister Duke.”) that Dunn faced difficult decisions: 

I think Bro. Dunn, or any of us, would be justified in viewing such a congregation from the standpoint of its own claims, so that if its confession of faith were satisfactory to us, and if it agreed to give us full liberty of expression, we might consider it as one of the true congregations of the Lord. However, it would be most remarkable, under present conditions, if such a congregation should take such a stand and should maintain it for any length of time. Here will come the real test upon Bro. Dunn – whether or not he will preach the Gospel at any cost. If he does I am almost sure as that he lives that it will ere long mean a rupture between himself and the congregation and a sundering of their relationship as pastor and hearers. Indeed, I cannot see how any but spiritually minded people can accept the Gospel in the light of present truth as it is now shining. … I advice that you counsel him in every way to faithfulness, for certainly the Lord’s tests upon his minister are more crucial than upon the general average believer, and we all agree that it ought to be, for they have much advantage every way over the so-styled laity.[15] 

            Joseph Dunn was a Baptist clergyman active in Hague and in Glens Falls, New York. He was a popular preacher whose sermons were well attended, one report saying that his meetings were “very interesting” and the congregation large with nearly every seat occupied. Whatever interest in Watch Tower doctrine he had was insufficient, and he did not change his public doctrine. In April 1903 he was by unanimous vote of the congregation reappointed pastor of the Baptist Church at Hague.[16] 

William Davis Williams 

In the mid-1880s William Davis Williams (c. 1849 – 1918) was a “backwoods country” Baptist clergyman, school teacher and farmer. He described himself as “full of zeal and earnestness” traveling the back country on foot for he was “a poor country school teacher and owned no horse.” He felt responsible for others’ salvation and preached a fiery message: “I was a strong believer in the eternal torment doctrine, and the thought of sinners dying in their sins and plunged into an everlasting hell of torment, cause me to suffer with awful fear, and dread that through my neglect or carelessness some would die in their sins though lack of hearing the Word.”[17]

Some of his views conflicted with more conservative elements among the Baptist fellowship. He preached against sectarianism and maintained pleasant fellowship with people from other denominations: “I loved a good Methodist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian … and sometimes I boldly denounce those divisions as not in harmony with … Scripture. Some of our rigid brethren wanted to have me disciplined and brought to order for preaching ‘unsound doctrine,,’ but the majority stood by me.”[18]

Someone sent him a sample copy of Zion’s Watch Tower, and he found its theology agreeable until he realized its editor rejected Hell-Fire doctrine. He was shocked: 

I was delighted to find the Scriptures so beautifully opened up, giving me clearer light than any religious literature I had ever read before. But hold! What is this the editor is teaching? No hell of torment – why, Christ Himself taught that the rich man died and went to hell, and while in torment, he besought Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his fingers in water to cool his fiery sufferings! How can Bro. Russell thus condemn the very language of Jesus? I immediately sat down and wrote Pastor Russell a good lengthy letter, giving an account of myself and the pleasure and help I obtained from his teachings; in conclusion I denounced his error in teaching that there is no hell of torment. “By whose or what authority do you dare to make yourself wiser than Chrsit himself?” I demanded to know. 

            Russell wrote back, praising his zeal and commending his “close Scripture studies.” “Go on, Bro. Williams,” Russell wrote, “continue to feed on the pure Word, prayerfully and earnestly, and you will come to a knowledge of the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus, and not the traditions of men.” Russell ignored Williams’ demand and “never mentioned hell.” Williams’ was disappointed, concluding that, “He (Russell) can’t answer my question, therefore he ignores it.”
            Russell continued to send Zion’s Watch Tower and “many tracts on various subjects.” When The Plan of the Ages was published, he sent that too. Russell’s patience and message slowly altered his views:

I continued in the Baptist ministry, preaching the truth, as I saw it then, with the exception of the subject of future punishment, and I began to have my doubts on that subject; but having been reared from infancy in that horrible doctrine, it required time and strong convictions of the truth to overcome it.

Thanks to God, I was not left to grope in the darkness of Popish errors, but eventually the teaching of dear Bro. Russell convinced me beyond the least flickering doubt, and I could have shouted for joy. Oh, what a terrible burden was lifted from mind and heart! I thought that from then on I could preach the true gospel with such convincing power, until all men would receive it gladly and rejoice with me in the glad tidings of salvation which is to all people. 

            He “began to realize that the dividing time had come.” Williams tendered his resignation to the church at Sandy Creek, Florida. They were reluctant to accept it. The asked him to stay. He recalled it this way: 

“Why should you leave us?” they asked. “Is that treating us just and right? Can’t you go on and preach the Bible as you have light, without introducing subjects of doubtful decision, that only create confusion and distress?” And I would hold on awhile longer, praying all the time for light – more light. 

            Not everyone in Sandy Creek Church was happy with the compromise. “Persecution arose in the church,” he wrote. Whoever was unhappy took the matter to the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, the governing agency for Baptists in Holmes County, Florida, and Geneva County, Alabama. Two issues worked against him: What he believed though did not teach in the church and jealousy over his reputation and status within the Sandy Creek Association. A. J. Huggins, pastor of the Cerro Gordo, Florida, church led the assault. The Sandy Creek Association’s Minute Book contains the only record outside of William’s own memoir:  

Whereas, It having reached the care of this Association that Sandy Creek church did in the year 1881, call a presbytery and ordain W. D. Williams, and give him full liberty to preach the Gospel and administer all the church ordinances, said church knowing said Williams to be unsound in the Baptist faith all of which we deem to be unscriptural and disorderly. Resolved there for that she stand thus charged, November 4th, 1882.[19] 

            A committee of nine, Association clergy and prominent adherents, were chosen to examine the charge. A meeting was scheduled for Sandy Creek Church for “Saturday before the third Sunday in July 1883.”

[1]              Churchgoers Astonished: The New York Sun, August 15, 1881.
[2]           Extracts from the Bible, The Glens Falls, New York, Morning Star¸ November 11, 1897. According to the 1870 Census, William H. Gildersleeve was born in New York about 1842, or according to the 1892 New York State Census he was born near 1837. [Census record birth dates often conflict.] He seems to have been related to H. H. Gildersleeve, a cigar manufacturer in Glens Falls. In April 1884, a devastating fire broke out in rental space in a building he owned. [New York Times, April 29, 1884.] A newspaper article [Glens Falls Morning Star¸ January 22, 1895] notes him as prominent in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
[3]               All Are Welcome to Attend, Salem, Oregon, Daily Capital Journal, November 2, 1900.
[4]               Dawn Students, a New Religious Sect, In Akron, The Akron, Ohio, Daily Democrat, January 17, 1902.
[5]               Untitled notice: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Evening Gazette, March 20, 1901.
[6]               Hessler was born in Pennsylvania about 1848. The 1880 Census tells us that he was widowed. He subsequently remarried. He was a cabinet maker, and later a contractor. Advertisements for his business appear in the Scranton Tribune [eg. October 7, 1898, and June 5, 1899 issues] advertising his remodeling, cabinet and flooring business.]
[7]               His Second Coming, The Albany, New York, Evening Journal, May 28, 1900. Various New York State Census records tell us Clapham was born in England between 1833 and 1834. He was a shoemaker. We do not know to what degree Clapham was interested in the Watch Tower message. A newspaper report from 1906 noted that he faithfully attended the Tabernacle Baptist Church “every Sunday but one in seven years.” [Albany Evening Journal, June 11, 1906.] We cannot identify Fletcher. 
[8]               Untitled notice, The Huston, Texas, Daily Post, May 29, 1901; Evangelist Sam Williams, February 22, 1903.
[9]               L. W. Jones [editor]: What Pastor Russell Said: His Answers to Hundreds of Questions, Chicago, 1917, pages 7-8.
[10]             Benjamin F. Fuller: History of Texas Baptists, Baptist Book Concern, Louisville, Tennessee, 1900, Pages 224-227.
[11]             Page 108.
[12]             Family history notes hosted on Rootsweb.
[13]             J. W. Brite: In Memoriam, The World’s Hope, February 15, 1892, page 61.
[14]             Westcott Obituary, The Potsdam, New York, Courier-Freeman, January 20, 1892.
[15]             Letter from C. T. Russell to Mrs. H. F. Duke dated October 3, 1901. Later letter mentioned above is dated November 2, 1901.
[16]             County and Vicinity New, The Glens Falls, New York Morning Star, September 26, 1903; Hague, Morning Star, April 3, 1903 and May 9, 1903; Untitled article in The Warrensburgh, New York, News, May 9, 1907.
[17]             W. D. Williams to Editor Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Family Puzzlers, a genealogy paper, suggests (Nos. 585-636) that Williams was born William R. Davis, Jr. It is claimed that he was a lawyer in South Carolina sometime between 1870 and 1880, and that he killed a man. He subsequently moved to Florida changing his name to William Davis Williams. We cannot verify any of that.
[18]             W. D. Williams to Editor, Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Unless otherwise noted, this material all comes from his letter.
[19]             Sandy Creek Baptist Association Minute Book as found in the Florida Baptist Historical Society Archives, Graceville, Florida.

On the Private blog ...

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

A bit more

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Out of Babylon


            The nature of Russell era congregations is misstated by Biblically illiterate historians and sociologists. Edward Abrahams asserted that “Russell used the words ‘alienated,’ ‘isolated,’ and ‘troubled’ to describe his congregations.” We ask, where?            

            Between 1879 and the end of 1916, the word alienated appears in fifty-nine issues of the Watch Tower. Watch Tower writers and Russell especially use it as commentary on Colossians 1:21-23: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard , and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” This is not a statement of social alienation, but of the need for reconciliation with God through Jesus.

            The word appears in quotations from other sources, usually as commentary on the alienation of the young from contemporary churches and the Bible. These are not a reference to Watch Tower congregations. Russell never uses the word alienated in the sense meant by a sociologist. The one place where one might presume he meant it in that sense is found in the January 15, 1912, Watch Tower. Russell wrote: 

The Church has cried in "the wilderness" in the sense that she has been alienated and separated from the world. She has called upon all who would hear to prepare for Messiah's Kingdom. She has told more fully than did John the Baptist of the effect of Messiah's Kingdom – the leveling up of the valleys (the lifting up of the poor), the straightening out of the crooked things and the smoothing of the rough things, that thus all flesh might see, appreciate, understand, experience the salvation of God. Both John and the Church declare that this salvation is to be brought through Jesus and His glorified Bride in Kingdom power. The point we are making is that while John the Baptist was an antitype of Elijah, and was forerunner or herald of Jesus, so, only more particularly, the Church in the flesh is a higher antitype of Elijah, and still more particularly a herald of the Messianic Kingdom. 

            Did Russell suggest that the congregations were socially alienated? Not in the way Abrahams and others suggest, and certainly this one occurrence is not an example of continual usage. Russell says the Church has no part in the world’s social upheavals and essential sinfulness. But the Church has an obligation to the world to uplift, to declare salvation, and to rebuke wrongdoing. Christians are not to approve of the world’s ways. This is not similar to the social alienation that led to the Haymarket affair or the Railroad Insurrection. This is a push for holiness.

            But what of Russell’s use of the word “isolated”? When using it of Watch Tower adherents, especially in the very early days, Russell meant those who were the lone believer in their area, not that they were otherwise isolated from their communities. An example is found in the October 1881 Watch Tower. Russell wrote an extensive report on the progress of Watch Tower evangelism “To strengthen and encourage the lonely and isolated ones.” Reporting Communion observance in 1884, he touched on the small number of believers, using the word ‘isolated’: “In some places only two or three assembled, in others more, and some isolated individuals alone, but the general testimony is that the Master was present at least in spirit; and for aught we know was personally present.” Does this seem to be a reference to social isolation? Not to us. But, as we shall explore, their unique beliefs left them separated partly or wholly from the religious community. Again in 1884, Russell wrote: 

It is comforting to those who stand isolated in their own neighborhood to realize this. There are many such isolated ones, and all have much the same experience –

in the world, tribulation; in Christ, peace. It is also a source of encouragement to learn that while we realize that the harvest is great the laborers are being multiplied, and that so far as we can learn, the saints are realizing their call to make known the glad tidings, and that though their talents be many or few they are not to be folded away in a napkin. We have learned that there are as many ways to preach the Gospel as there are talents among the saints. 

We rejoice with all these that we have been so enabled to comprehend the Gospel as to find that out of the abundance of the heart our mouth must speak; that the love of Christ and the knowledge of his glorious truth constraineth us. 

But while we thus rejoice together, we can but rejoice with trembling as we realize the secret, subtle, and persevering efforts of the Prince of this world to overcome the saints. No artifice or effort is left untried: Opposition, ridicule, rejection, flattery, false reasoning to disprove the truth, cares of this world, bribery with the good things of this world, and allurements of various kinds, are all used as the necessities of the individual cases may require.


            This is within Christian experience. Early Methodists and Baptists, and First Century Christians all experienced isolation because of belief. Plymouth Brethren chose it for the sake of pure belief. The trials Russell described are common to those who live by New Testament standards. Some sociologists believe this is harmful. Adherents in this era felt the isolation, but the counter to it was suggested in this article. Because they were ‘true believers’, they were also evangelists, expressing their beliefs to others. There is no alienation in this. They were determined to speak as God would have them speak, to bring the gospel to any who would hear.

            Russell was aware of this dichotomy. Isolated from “worldly” belief and practice by the desire for holiness and divine approval, adherents also felt compelled to take the Gospel to others. Drawn on his experiences with Watch Tower believers, he wrote: 

But where is this faithful Church to be found? – this people so set apart from the world, so faithful, so loyal and so true? – so ready always to recognize and accept the Lord's help? Does it gather here or there or yonder? and is God manifestly in the midst of its congregation as evidenced by its joyous songs and fervent prayers? Ah, no! it is a scattered flock; so much so that the world does not discover that there is such a people. The world knows them only as isolated and peculiar individuals who cannot assimilate even with the masses of those who bear the name of Christ. There is one in the quiet of country life whose chief interest is not in the harvest of his earthly crops, and who only plants and reaps thus that he may be able to devote himself so far as possible to the reaping of God's harvest. He has glorious tidings for his neighbors far and near, of the kingdom which is soon to be established in the earth. And there is a farmer's wife: in the midst of her busy cares the blessed sound of gospel grace has fallen on her ears. She feels at once like dropping the domestic duties and going abroad to tell the good news. But no; she remembers the Lord's teaching, that he that provideth not for his own house is worse than an unbeliever; and so she says, I will let my light shine here. These little ones around my feet shall learn to rejoice in the truth; my companion, my neighbors, my farm hands and all that I can reach through the mail or the press shall know of it; and all these domestic duties which I realize the Lord would not have me ignore shall henceforth be done with an eye single to his glory. 

Here is an invalid and there is an aged saint. Their faith in the Word of God, regardless of the vain philosophies and traditions so commonly accepted, brings upon them many reproaches which are meekly born for Christ's sake, while they humbly endeavor to let their light shine upon those about them. And yonder in a crowded city are a few who dare to be peculiar – to separate themselves from the customs and habits of social life, to forego the pleasures and present advantages of former social ties, to speak the new and heavenly language, to sing their songs of hope and praise and by every agency within their grasp to send forth the glorious message of the coming kingdom. And then scattered far and near are some unencumbered with earthly cares and joyfully denying themselves, esteeming it a privilege to devote all their time and energy to the great harvest work. Yes, "the Lord knoweth them that are his," and he is in the midst of them. He knows their loyalty to him and they know his voice and are ever ready to follow his leading. Thus no harm can overtake them. They will stand and not fall, and will in the end be crowned as victors. A thousand will fall at their side and ten thousand at their right hand in this day of trial, but they will be kept in the very midst of the wildest confusion. They may, as the trial proceeds and as the faint-hearted and unfaithful fall, be left to stand almost or entirely alone in their several localities; but then they will realize all the more the preciousness of being alone with God. 

            Strict adherence to Bible standards, no matter what the doctrine, has always produced something like this. It is hard for us to see Watch Tower adherents in the Russell era as social misfits in the same sense that those at the extremes of the labor movement and other disenfranchised groups were. Former slaves and their children, poor farmers, under paid and abused laborers, shop girls who prostituted themselves because they were not paid a fair wage suffered from forces outside their control. Separation form ‘the world’ on a doctrinal and holiness basis was a choice. Put in Apostolic terms, either one served God or was part of the world.

            In 1892, Russell wrote a commentary on the International Sunday School Lesson on the First Pslam. Russell said that the righteous man of Psalm One pictured “the man whose heart is perfected in holiness, the pure in heart.” This was “pre-eminently” a picture of Jesus, but “secondarily … of those … justified by faith … new creatures, walking in their Master's footsteps.” They were “sometimes imperfect” through fleshly weakness. The Psalm delineates “three steps” the righteous avoid: “(1) the ungodly – literally, the wicked, (2) sinners or transgressors, and (3) scorners or the conceited and unteachable.” “The proper course is to have no fellowship (sympathy and common interest) with people of any of these classes,” Russell wrote. He explained that this “not mean that we are to treat them unkindly or discourteously, nor that we are never to be seen walking, standing or sitting with such; but it does imply that our company should, as far as possible, be select, and of those who reverence our God, and that other fellowships should not be encouraged.”

Of the three types of wrong-doers Russell identified, he felt most would avoid the unquestionably wicked and common sinners. Most were “in danger of getting into fellowship with the scorners or unteachable.” Association with them would lead “to the same spirit, and that leads gradually to violation of the covenant with God; and that leads to open wickedness and willful sin.” The safe way is to have was to have “no fellowship with darkness: it is never profitable.” The principals in the first Psalm affected church affliation: 

In all the nominal churches there are many who have a form of godliness, but who are really ungodly – far from being in harmony with God and his plan. In the nominal churches are also many sinners, living in known violation of their covenant with God. And there, too, may be found, alas! sometimes even in the pulpits, those who are of an unteachable, haughty spirit, who even scoff at God's Word and make it void through their traditions. Come out from among them; and neither sit, nor stand, nor walk in fellowship with such. (Rev. 18:4; Isa. 52:11.) Stand with God, even if that should seem to imply standing alone. The Lord knoweth them that are his, and he has yet more than seven thousand who bow not to the idol of sectarianism. 

            Obedience to principals of good fellowship brought happiness rather than isolation: 

Some might suppose that one thus isolated would have an unhappy lot; but no, he is truly said to have a delightful experience. He delights day and night in meditating upon God's will and plan. In this he finds a joy and a peace which the world and a worldly church can neither give nor take away. One thus consecrated and full of the spirit of the Lord finds that God's laws of righteousness are not restraints which he would fain be freed from; but, like the Master, he can say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: thy law is engraven in my heart."

… Such children of God as have reached this degree of development do not wither away and become dead and barren, but, since the root of their new life is fed by the river of God's grace and truth, they are always fresh and joyous and fruitful--adding to faith virtue, brotherly kindness, love, and so are not unfruitful in either the knowledge or the wisdom which surely comes to all who have communion and fellowship with God. Whatsoever such do shall prosper. They have no plans of their own: they desire that God's will shall be done. And since God's plan shall prosper (Isa. 55:11), their plan shall prosper; for his is theirs. 

            Again we observe that this is not the disenfranchisement that Abrahams and others who take the same tack envision. It is engagement but on terms set by holiness. If the world is common and ungodly, it is not association of choice for Christians, but it is populated by those who need to hear the gospel and to whom Christians owe courteous behavior. Some historians and more sociologists take this and similar comments to mean Watch Tower adherents were disenfranchised and disgruntled. They misunderstand the religious spirit of the age.       

            Samuel L. Beiler, a professor at Boston College, a Methodist institution, also wrote a commentary on this psalm suggesting much the same things as Russell did: 

The scorners are those who make an open scoff at religion, and blaspheme and ridicule it. These … are as many now as in Psalmist’s day. They still have their ‘seat’ or assembly and form a deliberate confederacy in wickedness. To ‘sit’ in their ‘seat’ does not necessitate being an open-mouthed blasphemer, but may only imply a silent member of such a company, who in his own heard … harbors such feeling. Beware of mocking, ridiculing, scoffing, scorning sacred things. Such a spirit indicates a heart empty of good and of god, near to destruction. … The ungodly … will be as the chaff blown away by the wind. … In the great day of judgment the hearts that are like empty shells will be found wanting … 

            Those more modern writers who suggest that Watch Tower believers were especially alienated from the world are significantly out of touch with the religious spirit of the age. Watch Tower theology – on the issue of holiness and obligations to fellow men – fits directly into common religious belief. To return to Abrahams’ suggestions, we should note that the third term he suggested, “troubled,” does not seem to us to have been used in the sense he suggests. Since he cites no references, we cannot follow his research trail.

            Zion’s Watch Tower and traveling evangelists served as point of contact from the “twos and threes” and individuals. Hamilton Lincoln Gillis wrote to Russell from Preston County, West Virginia, after the Lord’s Memorial Supper in 1887, noting concern for the small groups. Russell printed it in the May Watch Tower: 

I have the great pleasure to report a very interesting and profitable meeting, on the evening of the 7th inst., of a little company, sixteen in number, who “kept the feast” in remembrance of “our Passover, slain for us.” We remembered the more isolated ones, who were not so privileged; also the little bands of twos and threes, and companies like our own, here and there all over the earth. We prayed also for the dear brothers and sisters in Allegheny; and we doubted not that we were also remembered, and the assurance gave us courage and strengthened us in our glorious privilege. We all join in sending our love and sympathy to you and Sister Russell, and to all the dear household that are privileged to see you face to face.

[1]               E. H. Abrahams: Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Studies, Spring 1977, page 61.
[2]               C. T. Russell: Prepare Ye for the Kingdom, The Watch Tower, January 15, 1912, pages 32-33.
[3]               C. T. Russell: In the Vineyard, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 5.
[4]               C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1884, page 1.
[5]               C. T. Russell: God is in the Midst of Her, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1891, pages 108-109.
[6]               C. T. Russell: The King of Zion, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 15, 1892, pages 90-91.
[7]              Beiler’s commentary if found in: Boston Homilies: Short Sermons on the International Sunday School Lessons for 1892, page 113ff.
[8]               Letter from H. L. Gillis to Russell, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1887, page 8. [Not in reprints.] Gillis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 1836 to Ander and Isabelle Gillis. About 1857 he married Isabel Crawford. They had four children. During the Civil War he served as a private in the 6th Regiment, West Virginia Cavelry (Union).  Though some online genealogies say he died in 1916, he died in 1906. Gillis traveled to Austraila in the late 1890s to mine for opals. On his return, they were stolen from him by an Aleck Cramer. [Swindled by his Friend, San Francisco Call, March 10, 1898] He returned to West Virginia.