Cite this material as: Schulz and deVienne: Development of Ecclesia Among Readers of Zion's Watch Tower: 1877-1887, as retrieved from TruthHistory.blogspot.com, [insert date]
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The Work in Canada
There was interest in Canada during the Barbourite era. Some from Canada attended the Worchester Conference in 1872. Russell’s booklet Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return saw circulation in Canada. A profile of his work done when he died said: “Many students of the Bible throughout the United States and Canada responded to the information derived from that book, and his correspondence became voluminous.”[i]
It is very likely that Canadians were on the original subscription list. Russell felt no need to send special representatives of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society to Canada to circulate Food for Thinking Christians, so there must have been sufficient pre-existing interest upon which he could rely.
The two most significant examinations of Watch Tower history in Canada both gloss over the 1880’s, and the writers seem to have not seen the period as worthy of extensive research or they simply lack the resources. Almost exclusively, documentation of the work in Canada is found in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower. Finding other documentation is very difficult, and the lack of thorough treatment of the period is understandable. Almost the only external reference to preaching in Canada is the letter sent to the editor of The Rainbow mentioned in the section on the United Kingdom.
The earliest correspondence from Canada noted in The Watch Tower is a letter from Ontario published in the January/February 1882 issue. The writer is, as was usual, unnamed. He thanked Russell for sending “the papers,” asked to be entered as a regular subscriber and asked, “Will you kindly advise me in regard to severing my connection with the church of which I am a member?” He explained that he could no longer attend his previous church “because it would be consenting to their teaching, which I do not now believe.”[ii]
A letter from Galt, Ontario, found in the May 1883 issue shows some missionary activity on the part of at least one individual. The writer thanked Russell for copies of Food for Thinking Christians and Tabernacle Teachings and said: “I am now endeavoring to feed the ‘Heavenly Food’ to my hungry fellow-Christians. Two others and myself are meeting three or four times per week to make ourselves more thoroughly acquainted with these great truths, and to satisfy ourselves that these teachings are based on the Word of God. As soon as we get through this, we intend to begin a systematic course of teaching out of ‘Food for Thinking Christians’ for all in this place whom we can interest and who are hungering and thirsting after the precious truth of God.”[iii]
In December 1883, Russell published a letter sent from Eglington, the city from which The Rainbow correspondent had written. No hint as to the writer’s identity appears in the letter, but it stands as proof of some evangelical success in the Eglington area. The writer mentions a diagram from an earlier Watch Tower article and says: “I am desirous to use the Diagram to awaken interest in the coming of the Lord among professing Christians.” [iv]
A letter from Ayrshire, New Brunswick appears in the December 1884 issue. It reveals and active missionary effort in Canada, though the details are not included in the letter. The writer isn’t identified either, but using the subtitle Why Evil Was Permitted instead of Food for Thinking Christians, the writer says:
SIR:--In the goodness of God I have got a look at your pamphlet, "Why Evil was
Permitted." I have been deeply interested in the subjects therein presented for
some time. Please to favor me with a copy of ZION'S WATCH TOWER with the
supplement already mentioned, and any others of a like description. Christians
cannot but note to what an extent the power of God is being put forth in the
calling of one here and another there. In striking contrast is the way in which
the devil, knowing that his time is short, is using every effort in his power,
and so the conflict is going on, while the so-called Church of God is sound
asleep. Let us realize our position. By faith having received the blessed Christ
and realizing the guiding and teaching of the Holy Ghost, may we grow in grace
and in the love of God.[v]
While tracing interest among Canadians during the 1880’s is difficult, there are hints of it. In October 1883, Paton included a notice in his magazine that he couldn’t use Canadian postage for subscription payments.[vi] Since most of Paton’s early readership came from those who also read Zion’s Watch Tower, this notice presupposes Canadian interest. By 1889 interest is noted in Manitoba, but with no indication of when it developed.[vii]
A “Pastor Brookman” appears in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower first in 1886, as one of the principal evangelists associated with the Watch Tower movement. He attended a meeting of evangelists in Allegheny held in connection with the Lord’s Memorial Meal in April that year.
William Brookman, originally an Anglican clergyman, was born in England. After living in “the East Indies” for a period, he immigrated to Canada in the late 1840’s.[viii] He is listed in a Gazetteer published in 1869 as a traveling agent for The Upper Canada Bible Society.[ix] One source claims an association with Methodism from which he separated “on the eternal torture question,” and another with a Baptist congregation.[x] The connection to Methodism is a misstatement. Brookman, balding and with a huge fluffy beard, was briefly pastor of the First Baptist Church at Brantford.[xi]
Brookman organized “a purely undenominational organization, not possessing any distinctive appellation” in June 1881, “when about thirty of the present members with their families nearly all of whom had seceded from the Yorkville Baptist Church formed a new congregation, unattached to any religious sect.” The history just quoted says:
Previous to the separation—which was based upon the rejection of the doctrine ofThe exact date of Brookman’s introduction to Watch Tower theology is unknown, but it was at least near the time he and those with him started their independent chapel. He continued his association with Russell into at least the 1890’s and maybe to his death in 1907, but he also corresponded with Paton and wrote an occasional article for The World’s Hope usually neutral or critical of Paton’s views. The earliest article from him that I have thus far found is one entitled “Eternal not Endless” printed in the January 1884 issue of The World’s Hope.[xiii] Brookman continued to write to Paton into the 1890’s, and there is a record of him sending money to aid Paton during an illness.[xiv]
endless life in misery being the punishment for sin—Mr. Brookman had been in
charge of the above-mentioned church for about a year, and prior to that again
had ministered in the Church of England for nearly a quarter of a century. The
main features of the belief professed by this little congregation, which numbers
only fifty-six members [in 1885] , are, in addition to that already mentioned;
the adoption of the great central truth of life only in Christ; the acceptation
of the Word of God as the sole rule of faith and practice, and, whilst holding
alone to the immersion of believers as true baptism, practicing
loving-fellowship with all who love the saviour.[xii]
It is likely that the small congregation led by Brookman was responsible for the circulation of Food for Thinking Christians in Toronto mentioned in the Rainbow article. Certainly Brookman was circulating Watch Tower material by 1886.
When he attended the memorial and conference in Allegheny, April 18 and 19, 1886, he spoke on the Ransom doctrine. Russell found his sermon interesting and edifying. The morning of the memorial gathering, Brookman and others active in the work “in a more or less public way” related “how they each found the work to progress in their hands, and the methods they found most successful in their efforts to ‘preach the Gospel to the meek.’”[xv]
A brief letter addressed to Brookman from “one of the Toronto brethren” appears in the same issue of Zion’s Watch Tower that reported his presence in Allegheny for the memorial and conference. It suggested a certain amount of hesitation on the part of some to accept both the invisible presence views and Russell’s belief in the heavenly resurrection of the saints.[xvi] Whoever was agitating these objections did so for some time. Another letter of nearly identical import appears in The World’s Hope [insert reference]
Little more is heard from Brookman. A member of the Toronto group wrote Russell in 1891 that “Bro. Brookman is very desirous that you should be with him at his hall.” Russell spoke to the group “by urgent request” on February 22, 1891. No hint is given either as to the urgency.[xvii]
Russell addressed a public meeting twice before speaking to Brookman’s congregation. Four hundred heard him speak on Restitution and on the Kingdom of God. That evening he spoke to the Toronto Believers at their meeting place, Jackson Hall at the corner of Young and Blood streets. No topic is mentioned, but from comments made by S. D. Rogers, a colporteur working in Toronto, the church there was suffering under some form of opposition:
While the harvest work is thus progressing, and the wheat is being gathered, weThe last reference to Brookman is in the September 1, 1892, Watch Tower where appears an article by him entitled “Future Probation for the Dead.”[xix] Certainly not all of the Toronto Believers were favorably disposed toward The Watch Tower. The memorial report for 1899 returned a figure of twenty-one who participated. One is tempted to speculate that the urgent request for Russell’s presence in 1891 had been the fragmentation of the Toronto Believers into those who were favorable to the Watch Tower message and those who were not.[xx]
cannot expect that the tares will all be gathered into bundles for burning
without some resistance, and so we are not surprised to find some gnashing of
teeth and gnawing of tongues. And this will no doubt be seen more and more as
the servants of the Master are the more faithful and enterprising in proclaiming
the message of present truth. The “hirelings” say: It is all right for you to
hold these views but you should not go about telling them to others. The Good
Shepherd says: “Feed my sheep.” And the more we feed the sheep so much the more will the false shepherds complain. In Canada, as well as elsewhere, some of the
would-be shepherds are speaking all manner of evil things against the messengers
of the truth. They do not understand us a bit better than the Jews understood
our Lord and his little band of disciples. Light hath no concord with darkness.
At least two nominal ministers in Ontario have publicly burned the Millennial
Dawn, and heaped all kinds of reproach on the author and those who are
circulating this peculiar book.[xviii]
The little congregation in Toronto had the same difficulty finding a suitable name as did the rest of those associated with The Watch Tower. Eventually they adopted the name Church of the Baptized Believers. It was dissolved by his request when Brookman died on April 2, 1907.[xxi] He is known to have written at least one tract or small book entitled The Future of the Non-elect Dead: The Vast Majority of Mankind in All Ages, published in 1906. He edited an eighty-seven page hymnal entitled Hymns of Faith and Love, published in 1897. While still an Anglican, he wrote The Scripture Alphabet in Verse, which was published in Canada in 1847. I haven’t been able to examine any of these publications.
Brookman and others were active in Canada from an early period. Even if the period is poorly documented, the activity of small groups and individuals can be presupposed. Russell mentions no extraordinary efforts in Canada, probably because he had a small but active base of fellow believers.
The 1979 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses briefly profiles a Thomas Baker, saying he accepted “Bible truth at an early date”:
Thomas Baker (was) a sawmill operator of Elba, Ontario, a small community aboutBaker was born March 20, 1848, in Ireland, and immigrated to Canada in 1850. His wife was twelve years his junior and born in Ontario. Her maiden name is unknown. I haven’t been able to examine Baker’s booklet, and a letter from Jehovah’s Witnesses says that while they know of the booklet, they don’t have a copy.[xxiii]
50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Toronto. A very religious man, Baker had
been the superintendent of the Anglican Sunday school. But his buzzing sawmill
became a place that also buzzed with the grand news of God’s kingdom. As his
daughter Annie puts it: “Every customer who came in was given a tract or booklet
or book. I don’t think he missed anyone!”
Since Thomas Baker was so well
known, his departure from the established church in the community raised plenty
of questions. In fact, so many people asked about this that he published a
booklet giving the reasons for his action. Baker died in 1906, and the funeral
talk was delivered by a person to whom he himself had taught the truth of God’s
Dating Baker’s introduction to the Watch Tower message is not possible without examining the booklet. The Bakers took to the message sometime before 1891. Local census records show the Bakers as members of the Church of England in 1881. In an 1891 census they are listed as “Bible Christian,” which was originally the name of a Methodist-oriented sect, but may have also been one of the many names used by readers of Zion’s Watch Tower.
The same census lists a Thomas Smith, then seventy-eight, and a William Young, a thirty-three year old blacksmith, as Bible Christians as well. Young’s children are also listed at “Bible Christian,” though his wife is not.[xxiv] It is unclear whether these were associates of the Bakers or not.
A letter from Thomas and Harriet Baker appears in the June 1, 1894, Watch Tower. It doesn’t date their association beyond an indefinite reference to the period “since we came to a knowledge of God’s plan.”[xxv] In the 1901 Census, Baker is listed as a “Restitutionist,” a name some applied to those adhering to Zion’s Watch Tower.
In an age when the foreign missionary activity of Christendom was at its peak, it is not surprising that Watch Tower publications found their way to many lands often sent by friends or relatives. In May 1883 Russell wrote:
Letters are constantly coming to hand, from out of way places, telling how truthMost of the early international mission work was done by individuals with no particular training but much faith who felt the urgent need to pass on what they had learned. Russell made this point in an article entitled “Seed Time and Harvest”:
has been recognized and appreciated and is feeding the consecrated ones wherever
they may be. We cannot doubt that every consecrated child will be brought in
contact with the light now shining on the sacred page. During the past month we
have heard from two deeply interested Indians, one of them a preacher; also,
from a missionary in China. It is glad tidings of great joy to the ends of the
earth, wherever God has children unfettered by traditions of men.
are many inquiries for preaching --many from out of way places where we could
not send. All should remember that, the fact of a necessity for preaching is a
call to those who have truth, to freely give what they have freely received of
God. It is a call to preach, of the genuine sort, and each child of God is a
witness -- a light bearer. Let your light so shine as to glorify your Heavenly
There are a number of ways of preaching. Among the most telling
methods is private conversation, backed up with well chosen articles marked for
their reading and study. One sister writes us from Virginia that she began to
tell what she had recently been learning to a few neighbors privately, and so
many came that presently a schoolhouse was needed to accommodate them, and it
even was crowded. So, each one willing and anxious to labor in the vineyard will
find the master ready to use his service, and a door of some sort will open.
Make use of small pportunities, and greater ones will come in due time. Only, be
sure you do all in the love of the truth, and not in a spirit of combativeness.
Then assuredly you will be blessed while blessing others.[xxvi]
The Lord shows his truth to a humble soldier in the British navy, and his heart
is filled with … zeal to tell it to others. The Lord then sends him to India at
the expense of the British Government, and gives him abundant leisure to herald
the good news there, to strengthen and establish some in the faith, and from
there to write letters and scatter printed matter in other distant parts. Thus
the trumpet tones of present truth … are sounded in India, and we may be sure
that in due time it will reach, through this or some other means, every saint in
India who is worthy to be gathered with the elect. And so several sailors are
bearing the good news to distant parts, and through them saints are being
gathered, cheered and comforted. One occasionally finds his way to South
America, again to Australia, and again to England, always watching for
opportunities for harvest work. Through the efforts of another of the Lord's
missionaries the truth reached some of the saints in China, who rejoice in its
light. The Lord wanted to gather some saints in Sweden, and he raised up some
earnest Swedes in this country, who by private letters and translations
communicate the good tidings to other Swedish saints. And so with the Germans. …
Thus through the press, by private correspondence, by traveling brethren, and by
the special efforts of those whose sphere is more limited, the Lord is carrying
on his great harvest work. He is sending forth these reapers with a great sound
of a trumpet, to gather his elect together.[xxvii]
By 1884 Russell could report a significant foreign correspondence. He urged the isolated ones to take comfort in knowing there were others in similar circumstance and to stand firm, using every opportunity to spread the message of the Present Christ and impending Millennium:
Many interesting letters from various parts, both across the waters and in our own country, give evidence of the fact that though iniquity abounds and the love of many waxes cold, still the Lord has a people consecrated and endeavoring to carry out that consecration in their daily life.
[i] Biography, The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, December 1, 1916, page 357.
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.[xxviii]
[ii] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, January/February 1882, reprints page 312.
[iii] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1883, page 1.
[iv] Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1883, page 2.
[v] Extracts From Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1884, page 2.
[vi] See the notice in The World’s Hope, October 1883, page 8.
[vii] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1889, page 1.
[viii] Finley, Mike: Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide, Canada, no date, page 51.
[ix] McEvoy, H.: The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory, Robertson & Cook, Toronto, 1869, page 478.
[x] Methodists: C. Pelham Mulvany: Toronto Past and Present: A Handbook of the City, W. E. Caiger, Toronto, 1884, page 184. Baptists: History of Toronto and County of York, C. Blackett Robinson, Toronto, 1885, volume 1, page 318.
[xi] Shenston, Thomas S.: A Jubilee Review of the First Baptist Church: Brantford 1833-1884, Bingham & Webster, Toronto, 1890, pages114-115. He served them from April 3 to May 6, 1880.
[xii] History of Toronto, pages 317-318.
[xiii] Brookman, W.: Eternal Not Endless, The World’s Hope, January 1884, pages 57-60.
[xiv] Brookman, W.: Extracts From Letter, The World’s Hope, March 15, 1892, page 94.
[xv] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1886, page 1.
[xvi] See: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1886, page 1; Blessed Dying—From Henceforth, same issue, page 3.
[xvii] See: Extracts From Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1891, page 30, and see the announcement Meetings in Toronto that follows.
[xviii] Harvest Work and Meetings in Canada: A Word from Brother S. D. Rogers, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1891, page 47.
[xix] The article is on pages 282-285 of that issue.
[xx] Memorial Widely Celebrated, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1, 1899, page 95.
[xxi] Finley, Mike: Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide, Canada, no date, page 51.
[xxii] 1979 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages p 78-9
[xxiii] Letter from Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, June 11, 2008. “Brother Baker’s daughter Annie told the brothers, when they were preparing the 1979 report on Canada, that her father had published this booklet. However, they do not have a copy of it in their files, nor do we have a copy in our files.”
[xxiv] Email from Steve Brown, archivist at Dufferin Museum, Ontario, to Bruce Schulz, dated June 18, 2008.
[xxv] The letter from Thomas and Harriet Baker appears in the June 1, 1894, issue of Zion’s Watch Tower on pages 178-179.
[xxvi] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1883, page 1.
[xxvii] Russell, C. T.: Seed Time and Harvest, Zion’s Watch Tower, September 1886, page 6.
[xxviii] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1884, reprints page 645.