Heroes of Our Faith
Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old
commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word
After the apostles died, there arose a weakness of scriptural precept and pre- ..cedent for church order. Soon thereafter human interference in the order of the church of God carried the once spiritual church onto the stepping stones leading into mystical Babylon. The Sanctuary of God was polluted.
In this spiritual Babylon were many years of superstition, human-based philosophy, and dogma based upon the traditions of men. It was a crime punishable by death, not only to have a copy of the Scriptures, but especially to have it translated into one’s own language. It was in these centuries that the light from the word of God grew dim.
All of this was foretold in Scripture. Although such a lack of faith is disturbing, there have been faithful saints throughout the centuries who have stood the test, strong in faith, strong in doctrine, and strong in practice.
When the French Revolution came upon the world, an era Charles Dickens later called “the best of times and the worst of times,” it was the beginning of the end for the papal system.
“Napoleon’s work, together with the French Revolution, broke the spell of religious superstition, humbled the pride of self-exalted religious lords, awakened the world … and broke the Papal dominion against which the religious Reformation had previously struck a death-blow … this … also clearly mark[ed] the beginning of a new era of liberty of thought, and the realization of individual rights and privileges … notice the rise and work of the various Bible Societies … the sacred volume which once she [Papacy] confined in chains, kept covered in dead languages, and forbade her deluded subjects to read, is now scattered by the millions in every nation and language.”—Thy Kingdom Come, p. 50.
After the American and French Revolutions, life continued as it had for centuries in the past. It was still very much an agricultural society, but there was a new enlightenment in the thinking of everyone. As a result of this change in thinking, people began to free themselves from the chains of oppression, and from superstitions that had prevailed so long over science, philosophy, and religious thought.
It was in the breaking of
these chains in America in the early nineteenth century that a new spirit of
liberty entered into the Christian Church.
The Christian Connexion
A different denomination sprang up in the United States at the dawn of the nineteenth century. It was referred to as the “Christian Connexion.” These “Christ-ians” as they preferred to be called, had been dissatisfied with the creeds of the churches and were determined to return to the simple faith of the apostles and the Scriptures.
They assembled wherever they could, and because of their dissatisfaction with the traditions of men, they threw out the former creeds they had believed. They determined that the only way to find the true doctrine of the Scriptures was to study the Scriptures alone.
They wrote that “the name Christian is the only name of distinction which we take, and by which we, as a denomination, desire to be known, and the Bible our only rule of faith and practice” (McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia).
The “Christ-ians” believed that each congregation should be independent; they believed that:
Through simple faith and study of the Scriptures alone as the only basis of doctrine, “Christ-ians” at this time had corrected several errors of the dark ages. One of these was the doctrine that all who would not accept Jesus would burn in hell for eternity.
One of the associates of this “Christian Connexion” was Henry Grew. He was born in Birmingham, England, in 1781 and came to the United States at the age of fourteen with his Congregationalist family.
His father was a merchant and although he wanted his son to pursue a similar career, he allowed him to choose the ministry instead.
While he was studying for the ministry, he was led to an understanding that the Scriptures teach baptism by immersion. This prompted him to join the Baptist denomination. Soon afterward, in 1807, he was licensed to preach and became Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hartford, Connecticut.
“He was an earnest and consecrated Bible student, and a marked revival developed early in his pastorate there, many converts being added to the church.”—Froom, Leroy, The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers.
After studying the question of the nature and destiny of man from the Bible alone, Grew came to the conclusion that the true Bible hell was the grave.
He served as pastor of the Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut, for fourteen years; it was dissolved because of his adoption of views the Baptists deemed heretical. His piety was never questioned though, and a portion of the church that sympathized with his views went with him.
“In my researches after truth some years ago, my faith in the common doctrine of the Trinity was shaken. Deeply impressed with a sense of the importance of obtaining, so far as is revealed, a correct knowledge of ‘the only true God,’ and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, I have humbly endeavored to ‘search the Scriptures,’ looking unto Jesus for the guidance of his holy spirit which he promised his disciples to lead them into all truth.”—Henry Grew, The Examination of the Son of God (1824).
Grew began to write more booklets and tracts advocating his new views and in the early 1840s many of the members of the “Christian Connexion” found themselves advocating these same views.
They also found themselves accepting the views of another Baptist, William Miller, who believed that the Lord was soon to come.
One of these Millerites named George Storrs found one of Henry Grew’s tracts on the floor of a train. He was so intrigued by what he read that for the next three-and-a-half years he researched the Scriptures himself, and decided that the Scriptures really taught that the true Bible hell was the grave. Though George Storrs no longer believed in hell fire, his views differed from that of Henry Grew in that he did not believe that the wicked would be resurrected. The two men debated this issue for decades until the death of Grew in 1862.
Because of his new convictions, Storrs started a new publication advocating his views. He called this magazine The Bible Examiner and it found its way into the hands of many of the Adventists.
While William Miller criticized the views of George Storrs on the condition of the dead, many of the Millerites accepted them. It is for this reason that most of the splinter groups of Miller’s followers, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and the Christian Adventists, do not believe in hell fire or the immortal soul; many do believe in the resurrection of the wicked.
One of the Millerites who accepted these views was Charles Fitch. Upon accepting Storrs’ view of the dead, Fitch did all he could to broaden the reach of this doctrine. It was only a few months after accepting this view that Fitch immersed some brethren in a lake in October. As a result, he contracted pneumonia and died.
In the early 1860s George Storrs and several others who accepted his views formed “The Life and Advent Union.” Storrs ceased publication of The Bible Examiner and he and the Union published these views in a weekly newspaper called The Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom.
George Storrs was the editor-in-chief of this paper for almost a decade when he became ill and unable to continue. He was so ill for several months that he almost died. Unable to pay his doctor bills, several of his friends took up a collection and paid his bills for him.
It was during his sickness that he had time to think and reconsider several of his views. One was that of the resurrection of the wicked, the same doctrine he and Henry Grew had debated for years. When he returned as editor of the paper, he had changed his view to conform to that of Grew. Afterward he began to publish editorials on this subject in a series of articles he titled “God’s Promise and Oath to Abraham.” He wrote:
Storrs, The Herald of Life and
The same friends who paid his bills soon removed George Storrs from his post as editor because of these views. For this reason he restarted his previous publication, The Bible Examiner. In the few years before his death he wrote:
“The next age of Messiah’s personal reign of one thousand years, will open with a resurrection of all the sleeping saints who have suffered with or for Christ in this or the previous ages: such ‘shall reign with him.’ … These having suffered with Christ, and overcome the seductions to abandon His cause, will ‘together be made perfect’ in body and mind … That there will be more than two classes of men on the earth at the opening of the next age, or at the second advent of Christ, to me is clear … there is yet a … class of men at the second advent of Christ, who ‘have not heard God’s fame, neither have seen his glory,’ etc. … This class constitutes by far the largest part of the inhabitants of the earth … will be the subjects of trial under Messiah’s personal reign.”—George Storrs, The Bible Examiner, January 1877.
Those who opposed him accused him of accepting the views of a Henry Dunn of England. Since Storrs did not know who this Henry Dunn was, he began to search for his writings. He was surprised to find that Dunn had come to these same conclusions a few years earlier, and had been advocating them in England at the same time Storrs was spreading these ideas in America. Dunn wrote:
“The heathen, regarded as tributary to Israel, they believed would also live again, in accordance with the promises of restoration they had received; but it was to be only as the subjects of the chosen race, who as kings in the kingdom of God were to rule over them.”—The Kingdom of God, p. 11.
“What he [the Jew] looked for and anticipated was … distinction, high service, rule over the nations, the possession of a boundless kingdom, in which every Israelite should be a kingly priest. So he read the word of the Lord to Moses on the mount, ‘Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests.’ (Exodus 19:6) All other nations were, he supposed, to be governed and taught by Israel. This privilege, with all that it involved, he believed would be his simply as a child of Abraham. For the Messiah that was to introduce this kingdom he watched and waited with an unwavering faith from infancy to old age.”—The Kingdom of God, p. 15.
“They did not even contemplate anything like a ‘new testament,’ the result of their national perversity, and of the calling of the Gentiles. … Ezekiel had distinctly told them that when Jehovah should gather Israel, he would put a new spirit within them; would ‘take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 11:19). Jeremiah, in almost the same words, had similarly characterized the day of restoration (Jeremiah 31:33). Isaiah had said that then all their children should be taught of God (Isaiah 54:13); and Micah had enforced the same truth in connection with the period when the nations should come and go up to the house of the God of Jacob (Micah 4:2).” —The Kingdom of God, p. 20.
Another of the Millerite splinter groups was called “The Second Advent Movement.” These Second Adventists also accepted the early views of George Storrs on the condition of the dead, but their main focus was the second advent of the Lord. They had set several dates, and had many disappointments.
A Second Adventist preacher named Jonas Wendell was preaching the imminent coming of the Lord in a book titled Present Truth in 1870. In this book he projected the date of 1873 as the second coming of the Lord.
It was through his preaching
that he rekindled the faith of a man “almost by accident.” This man stumbled
into a dirty, dingy hall one day when Jonas Wendell was preaching and was so
intrigued by his views that his faith in the Bible was restored. That man was…
Pastor Charles Taze Russell
The parents of Pastor Russell were Presbyterians. His mother was very strict and tried to explain to him that she was exacting with him because she did not want him to go to hell. This impressed the mind of her young son enough that a few years after the death of his mother he (at age 16) wrote warnings on the sidewalk urging others to repent or they would go to hell.
Though it was the doctrine
of hell that kept his interest in his earliest years, it was his heartfelt
conscientious reconsideration of this very tenet in light of its pronounced
unfairness and cruelty which caused the young Charles Russell to lose all
interest and faith in the Scriptures as the inspired word of a just and loving
God—supposing this monstrous precept to be taught therein. He then began a
search of several world religions, trying to find something that would give him
peace. It was the preaching of Jonas Wendell that reignited his love for the
Lord and caused him to return carefully and prayerfully to his Bible to study
it without the influence of the generally-held dogmas and creeds.
One of Wendell’s associates, Nelson Barbour, had also set 1873 as the date for the coming of the Lord. In 1871 he published the book Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873 or The Midnight Cry on why he believed the Lord would come then, and gave several reasons from different time prophecies and chronology that he believed proved this doctrine.
Nelson Barbour had been a Millerite and was disappointed along with all of the other Adventists in 1843, disappointed enough that he had lost his religion. He wrote that in that portion of his life he dwelt in total darkness.
While on a boat trip from Australia to London he had been discussing the time prophecies with an English chaplain. The chaplain proposed that they systematically study each of the prophecies to fill the time of a long trip. When they came to Daniel 12 Barbour noticed something that he had never seen before in the verse about the “abomination that maketh desolate.” He had read the prophecy several times but never thought about why the Millerites began the prophecy thirty years before the abomination was set up. Barbour deduced that this must have been the mistake and upon recalculating this time prophecy he decided that the days ended not in 1843, but in 1872.
Nelson Barbour went to the British Museum library when he arrived in London and found a book which had a chronology ending the six thousand years from Adam in 1873. The book was titled Horae Apocalypticae (Hours with the Apocalypse) and was written by Edward Bishop Elliott. This chronological list is found in the book under a long footnote, where Elliott wrote that “this Scripture Chronology, with the scriptural authorities in brief” was “drawn up by the Rev. C. Bowen” (Horae Apocalypticae, 1851, p. 236).
By writing “this Scripture Chronology” in the footnote, Elliott was referencing another Chronology written in the 1820s by a Henry Fynes Clinton.
Elliott wrote, “Mr. Fynes Clinton in his Essay on the Hebrew Chronology has greatly elucidated the subject” stating that the “only real appeal is to Scripture” as to “the world’s present age, dated from Adam’s creation, and … the termination of its sixth millenary” (Horae Apocalypticae, 1851, p. 230).
Though Clinton ended the six thousand years in 1862, Elliott used Clinton’s chronology as the basis for his own work in which he ended the six thousand years in October of 1872.
Even with this chronological evidence pointing to the time of the coming of the Lord, Nelson Barbour and his associates were disappointed that the Lord did not come in 1873 as they expected. After some recalculation the new date of 1874 was advanced, and again they were met with disappointment by not seeing Jesus coming in the clouds as they waited for him in expectation. Barbour recalculated and reevaluated his ideas several times and was unable to find any place where he could make further adjustments.
He was about to give up thinking that the Bible could supply an answer when correspondence from one of the readers of his magazine arrived. B. W. Keith wrote that he had been studying the Scriptures about the return of the Lord and had decided that they were looking for the wrong event to prove the presence of the Lord. Through their studies on this subject they discovered that the Lord had indeed returned in 1874, but invisibly; it was this discovery that gave them hope and encouragement once more. It was also B. W. Keith who published early ideas of the “sin offering” doctrine in Barbour’s magazine. He wrote:
“As suffering with Christ, must mean to suffer for the same purpose, it is necessary to know why he suffered. If he is the head and the church is his body, and the body is to ‘fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ,’ would not the plan be a failure without the suffering of the body? … if reigning with him, and being glorified together, means to share with him, in reigning and glory; then suffering with him, means to share in the sufferings. … If we shall be faithful to him who hath called us; if we hold fast, firm unto the end, we shall be made like him, ‘a royal priesthood’; and having been tried in all points, we shall be able to sympathize with, and deliver those who shall be tempted in the future dispensation.”—B. W. Keith, “Suffering With Christ,” Herald of the Morning, October 1878.
Nelson Barbour and his associates continued their studies and uncovered further understandings similar to this as well as more on time prophecy. It was through these studies that they formed their views on the parallels, doubles, Jubilees, the 1,260, 1,290, and 1,335 days, as well as the Gentile Times prophecy ending in 1914. It was early in 1876 that Pastor Russell received Nelson Barbour’s paper, The Herald of the Morning.
Concerning this magazine, Pastor Russell wrote that he “learned from its contents that the Editor was beginning to get his eyes open on the subjects that for some years had so greatly rejoiced our hearts … that the object of our Lord’s return is not to destroy, but to bless all the families of the earth” (Reprints, p. 3822).
He was so excited about seeing there were others who believed as he did that he, “Paid Mr. Barbour’s expenses to come to see me at Philadelphia (where I had business engagements during the summer of 1876), to show me fully and Scripturally, if he could, that the prophecies indicated 1874 as the date at which the Lord’s presence and ‘the harvest’ began. He came, and the evidence satisfied me.” (Reprints, p. 3822).
After this meeting Pastor Russell started his ministry and encouraged the true Church of God to come out of “Babylon” (a word he used to describe religious confusion).
All of these things happened because this was the time for the cleansing of the sanctuary. The errors from the Papal dominion had defiled the church. But there was hope. It was not only prophesied that this would happen, it was also foretold that the sanctuary would be cleansed (Daniel 8:14).
We not only have examples of the Ancient Worthies who were faithful to God, but we have the examples of many faithful Christians throughout the Gospel age: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:1-4, NASB).
We are part of this sanctuary class that is still here today. Let us trust in the Lord who protected and led all those who were his through the past ages, and who cleansed the sanctuary, the church, from the errors of the dark ages.
We should consider that since our offering to God has not yet cost us our lives, we must keep pressing on and striving against sin; we can keep spreading these beautiful truths that God has given to us, truths that we may take for granted, but truths that we should make a part of our daily lives.
“Are you willing to follow on to know the Lord through evil and through good report? Are you willing to forsake all, to follow as he may lead you by his Word?—to ignore the wishes of friends, as well as your own desires? It is hoped that many … may by it be so quickened to fresh zeal and fervency of spirit, through a clearer apprehension of the divine plan, that they will be able to say, ‘By the grace of God, I will follow on to know and to serve the Lord, whatever may be the sacrifice involved.’ Like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11), let such studiously set themselves to prove what has been presented in the foregoing pages. Prove it, not by the conflicting traditions and creeds of men, but by the only correct and divinely authorized standard—God’s own Word.”—Charles T. Russell, The Divine Plan of the Ages, pp. 347, 348.