Wednesday, October 26, 2011
1874-75 Allegheny-Pittsburgh – Adventist or Age to Come? The case of George Storrs and Elder Owen.
Illustrated above are George Stetson’s meetings at Quincy Hall, Allegheny, as reported in The Advent Christian Times in November, 1873, and George Clowes’ meetings at the same address as reported in The Restitution (Age to Come/One Faith) in November, 1874.
Note: this is an abridged version of this article. The full article with all the references can be found on blog number 2.
As previously established on this blog, the Allegheny meetings of the early 1870s had an eclectic mix. In the early days Advent Christians and Age to Come believers would often meet together. They were united on their keen interest in the return of Christ and conditional immortality, while generally divided over such subjects as the destiny of Israel, the resurrection, the timing of key events, and the advisability (or otherwise) of date setting.
As long as everyone remained tolerant and unofficial the situation could continue. But while Age to Come believers of the 1870s were independent groups, the Second Adventists were increasingly anxious for recognition as an established religion. This required an official statement of belief covering not just vague generalities but specifics. As George Storrs would put it, writing in Bible Examiner for June 1876, about his distaste for Advent Conferences, (quote) I have seen this process of organizing conferences, especially, with deep sorrow. Next come “Resolutions”, theory of course, at first; but presently dictatorial, next penal (end of quote).
The logical outcome from this was described in Bible Examiner (hereafter abbreviated to BE) for October 1877, where Elder S W Bishop quotes from a resolution passed at the last session of The Advent Christian Association, to the effect that (quote) appointments to preach shall not be passed in their organ, The World’s Crisis, for anyone who believes...the following doctrines...viz...age to come (end quote). Bishop relates tales of those preaching future probation being forced out of churches.
In spite of this, some individuals still managed to straddle the divide through the 1870s. George Stetson was a case in point. Ordained by the Advent Christian Church they claimed him as one of their own, but in the last few years of his life he probably wrote more articles for The Restitution, and his meetings in Edinboro were regularly announced there.
As noted above, Stetson’s 1873 meetings at Quincy Hall in Allegheny were billed as Advent Christian. The local man, George Clowes, had also been claimed as Advent Christian at one point, but as also noted above, by 1874, his ministry at Quincy Hall was now claimed as One Faith, Age to Come.
So which was it to be? Advent Christian or Age to Come?
While the group associated with the Russell family no doubt retained its independence, allowing the majority to link up with Nelson Barbour later, if you had to attach a label, Age to Come believers in future probation (rather than Advent Christian) would be it.
This article will present three lines of evidence to establish this. First, the way their meetings were advertised in the religious press, and then two key visitors whose preaching was accepted by the group.
The first point we have already covered. The November 1874 meetings with Elder Clowes were advertised as Age to Come. As we will see later, the meetings Clowes attended were also attended by Joseph Lytel Russell, William H Conley, and Charles Taze Russell (hereafter abbreviated to CTR). When Clowes died in 1889 Zion’s Watch Tower published an obituary for him in the March issue (reprints 1110).
Second and third, we have two known visitors to the group.
The first was George Storrs himself, who visited in May 1874 and wrote quite a detailed account of his experiences. Before we try and pigeon-hole Storrs’ theology, it would be useful to outline what happened both before, during and after his visit to Pittsburgh.
Shortly after his magazine became a monthly again, Storrs offered to preach on the subject of Vindication of the Divine Character and Government to any group who would welcome him. The next issue, April 1874, noted that C T Russell and Son had been in touch, as had George Stetson in Edinboro. Another regular Pittsburgh correspondent from this era was C W Buvinger, M.D. Whoever gave the invitation, it was given promptly and Storrs responded promptly. In the May 1874 BE, Storrs announced that he would be in Pittsburgh on the first and second Sundays of that month.
In the June 1874 BE, Storrs’ editorial gives a detailed review of his trip to Pittsburgh. Storrs (quote) found there a small but noble band of friends who upheld with the full hearts the truths advocated by himself. Among them is a preacher who was formerly of the Methodists (end quote). This would appear to be George Clowes.
Storrs reproduced a newspaper review from The Pittsburgh Leader on his talk at the Library Hall. In his talk Storrs refers to “the ages to come” and stresses that (quote) all men have will have an opportunity, if not in this life, in another one...Some may call me Universalist. I am in one sense; I believe that a universal opportunity will be accorded to every son and daughter of Adam (end of quote). Storrs ended his review by thanking the friends in Pittsburgh for their generous support sustaining him and sending him on his way.
Storrs’ visit had an immediate impact. In the same June 1874 issue of BE, under the heading Parcels Sent up to May 25 are several well-known names: Wm H Conley (2 parcels), G D Clowes Snr. and J L Russell and Son (by Express). Sandwiched between the names of Clowes and Russell in the list is a B F Land. It is only conjecture on this writer’s part, but CTR’s sister Margaret, who was about twenty years old at this time, was to marry a Benjamin Land. They had their first child c. 1876. One wonders when and where they met.
Missing of course from this list of eager recipients of Storrs’ materials is CTR – other than the letterhead of J L Russell and Son. However, the very next issue of BE for July 1874, under Letters Received up to June 25, lists C T Russell
So key characters were all in place when Storrs’ visited in May 1874 and preached about the Ages to Come, and when the Restitution advertised Allegheny meetings conducted by Clowes as One Faith in November 1874.
In the December 1874 BE, a belated letter from Joseph Lytel Russell to Storrs was published about the May meeting, apologising for the delay and expressing Joseph’s appreciation for it. Storrs’ responded by saying (quote) Brother Russell is one of our elder brethren, with whom I formed a most agreeable acquaintance while in Pittsburgh last May, and I think of him only to love and respect him (end of quote).
This suggests that Storrs and Joseph Lytel only met in the flesh for the first time at those meetings in May 1874. And there is no mention of CTR in the correspondence. However, assuming CTR was actually there in early May, Storrs would naturally relate more to those nearer his own age.
So George Storrs was a welcomed speaker at Pittsburgh, with whom some at least continued in warm fellowship afterwards.
So, returning to our main point, what does this tell us about the leaning of the group he visited? Was Storrs Age to Come or Advent Christian?
Storrs would probably have denied that he was either. However, his sympathies certainly lay in one direction.
Storrs was fiercely independent, and had restarted Bible Examiner in 1871, after accepting future probation with an inclusiveness that, as noted above, prompted others to accuse him of being universalist.
Future probation had been a hot potato for both Age to Come believers and Adventists, with widely differing views within each group. But in the 1870s the Restitution newspaper at least allowed some debate on the subject. Storrs wrote a number of articles for the Restitution on this theme, as part of an ongoing debate, where some readers accepted the general outline of his views. Storrs’ journal also quoted approvingly from The Restitution on a number of occasions, and. even when disagreeing with them Storrs still addressed them as “dear fellow-laborers”.
So it would be logical for an independent group like the one in Pittsburgh to welcome Storrs as a speaker.
No such rapport can be found between Storrs and the Advent Christian Church throughout the 1870s. One can look in vain for kind words about them in BE.
A few comments directly from Storrs himself about the Advent Christian Church and its organs like The World’s Crisis: (quote) Poor old Rome has some very foolish children...I have nothing but pity for such ...out of their own mouths they are condemned...the same spirit crucified the Lord Jesus...I leave them with their own master...very close to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (end of quotes).
Some of Storrs’ correspondents were almost apoplectic when mentioning the Advent Christian Church (quote) Unmitigated bigotry...daughters of Rome...covenant breakers...appalling doctrine...as bigoted and sectarian as any other “ists” (end of quotes)
Correspondents sent in material on the assumption that Storrs did not receive The World’s Crisis, and Storrs himself gave a succinct response to one correspondent: I never see the Advent Christian Times!
Storrs summed up his views of both Adventists and Age to Come believers in an article published in July 1876 BE, entitled Adventist View in Error on the End of Probation. He stated (quote) these are painful dilemmas for humane and conscientious Adventists...it makes them secretly hope...that the Age to Come advocates are right (end quote). Then, writing about the Age to Come believer (quote) as he believes in the restoration of Israel and the conversion of them and the Gentile nations, and allows both salvation and probation for such beyond the second advent, he does not burn up the promises of God before they can be fulfilled, like the Adventist (end of quote).
Reading all the above, I think we can safely assume that, had the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group been staunch Advent Christian, there is no way George Storrs would have been on their guest list!
So we have two lines of evidence as to the leanings of the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group in 1874-75 – first, how they were advertised in the religious press and second , how a maverick like Storrs was welcomed.
The third line of evidence is another visitor they had – this time in 1875. And here we come to the interesting case of Elder E Owen.
The November 1875 BE contains a trove of familiar names. Under Letters Received, Storrs notes two from CTR and one from W H Conley. But a little earlier in this issue Storrs published the contents of two other letters, one from Elder G D Clowes and one from J L Russell, both of Pittsburgh.
Both letters expressed support for Storrs’ labours and showed clearly that Clowes and Joseph Lytel were still attending the same meetings. They also give a clue as to the continuing character of those meetings. Clowes writes “Brother Owen is labouring with us”. Joseph Lytel gives a little more detail: “Brother E Owens (sic) of Portsmouth N.H. has been with us on a visit. We were very much pleased with him. I think he is truly a servant of the Lord’s, sent to preach the gospel.”
Elder E Owen (like George Clowes before him) had been claimed as Advent Christian a few years before. He is listed in the World’s Crisis’ speaking lists for 1871, including his home city of Portsmouth, N.H. But by 1875, if not before, he appears to have come to a parting of the ways.
Storrs published several of his letters. The key one was in the issue for April 1874, where, to use a modern expression, Owen has a bit of a rant.
(quote) When so called “men of God” advise congregations to exclude from their houses, and churches, all who believe in the “age to come”, (as was reverently done in this place), I feel to say, God have mercy upon such leaders of the people: for if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. I am fully satisfied the Advent people are growing more and more contracted in sentiment, more and more adverse to investigation; and I am fully aware that spiritual death and declension is inevitable. May God preserve me and as many as can be preserved from imbibing so unfruitful a frame of mind. (end of quote)
Elder Owen had strong feelings over the increasing gulf between Adventists and Age to Come believers and how he had personally fared in the controversy. He clearly eschewed any woolly ecumenical feelings and nailed his colors firmly to the wall. So when George Clowes and Joseph Lytel welcomed Owen with open arms in late 1875 and spoke appreciatively of his ministry, it is obvious which side of the mounting divide they continued to support.
So while the group connected with Joseph Lytel Russell, George D Clowes, William H Conley and CTR may have been independent, its natural home was in the Age to Come family.
And then events took an unexpected turn. Charles Taze Russell met Nelson Barbour.