This chapter has been one of the hardest to write. I'm sure that the final product will be different. But here it is for your comment. Sorry for the strange formatting issues:
8 Aftermath of Failure
8 Aftermath of Failure
Little of this story has been told. As with much else in this era of Watch Tower history, we find significant purposeful nonsense and just plain bad research. For example, Graig Burns asserts that "the Bible Students had split off from a group of Second Adventists under N. H. Barbour, which later became the 7th-Day Adventist Church."1 We’re fairly certain Seventh-day Adventists would be surprised to know this. We certainly were.
They were small in number. Firm figures elude us, but we can make an educated guess. They drew from Second Adventists, primarily Advent Christians and Life and Advent Union adherents. Though Second Adventists claimed a combined membership of thirty-thousand world-wide, this was a huge exaggeration and has no basis in fact. Few Adventists found the Barbourite message attractive. Adventists turned to 1877 and then 1879 as probable dates for Christ’s return. Age-to-Come/One Faith adherents numbered less than four thousand.2 Many Barbourites came from this group, attracted to it by their Age-to-Come belief. In 1885 Barbour reported that the average monthly circulation of The Herald of the Morning was one thousand, including missionary and give-away issues.3 It was probably somewhat less, and we are probably being generous if say that at its peak, they had something less than two thousand adherents. The regularly published money-received column suggests far fewer committed believers. This was a very small movement.
They expected translation in the spring of 1878. Some were hesitant to name a specific day, but many of them pointed to Passover Day that April.4 They saw the work of Moody and Shanky as an extension of their own and as proof that God was calling to Christians preparatory to "the harvest" gathering. Age-to-Come advocates and Second Adventists felt similarly, republishing Moody’s February 1877 sermon on the Lord’s Return. Russell never abandoned belief that Moody did God’s work:
In 1878 there were a great many who had not passed their trial in full; that there were in the nominal churches many thousands who had made full consecration, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I remember well Evangelist Moody’s campaign. At that time a great many seemed to be genuine converts, for his preaching seemed to be very different from that of the majority of evangelists. He preached forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and full consecration to God. Many at that time made a full consecration, had their names tentatively written and filled up the list. But when testings came on, many were found unworthy of a higher reward than that of the Great Company. Others taking the places of the failures also had to be tested and sifted.5
Revival conversions were often temporary, and lapsed behavior, if not lapsed belief, was common. But the numbers attending Moody’s revivals convinced them that their prophetic scheme was well-founded.
Moody’s Sermon as Republished
by Evangelical Adventists.
"Translation" is seldom defined by modern writers. Age-to-Come adherents saw it as the change from a mortal body to an immortal one. Some postulated a temporary sojourn in heaven before a return to a cleansed earth. Some saw it as mere change without any heavenly experience. Barbour and his associates rejected an "agricultural heavens" or a heaven-on-hearth theology in 1877, believing that the Bride of Christ would have a heavenly home, ruling over a cleansed paradise earth. Translation meant glorification to heaven in a new spirit body to be with and like Christ who was himself a life-giving spirit. This was the next step, the expected next move on the part of an invisibly present Christ.
Others expected translation on the same or similar grounds. S. A. Chaplin, editor of The Restitution, adopted much of Barbourite interpretation.6 Writing in the October 9, 1877, issue of The Restitution, he presented the Euphrates River as a prophetic image. He identified it as interloping powers dominating the Promised Land, Immanuel’s Land:
The mystic Euphrates is not much longer to flood Immanuel’s land, in the stage of events now in progress. Immanuel (Jesus) is to become the chief actor in the scenes. During the evaporation of these mystic waters he comes as a thief. This coming is to a locality in the deep ethereal to which he suddenly and secretly removes his elect church. This is the next grand event of prophecy, and is now imminent. Are we living in a state of preparation for the sudden translation? The door into this heavenly household will soon be closed forever, and to all eternity remained closed. The Gospel will soon win the last hair of a crown of glory, and the princely priesthood be complete. The Coming One "Shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth." See Ps Lxii, 8. The Euphrates will not bound his empire, but it will be world-wide. He says, "Behold, I come quickly: hold fast thou hast, that no man take they crown." Rev. iii. 11. And again, "Behold, I come as a thief. Blesses is he that watcheth and keep his garments. This is a warning of current events. Shall we so live as to share a part in his universal reign?7
Chaplin saw a two-fold, partially-invisible parousia, and he adopted Barbourite emphasis on the Euphrates as a prophetic symbolism. Translation was at the door. Chaplin spoke out of both sides of his mouth over this issue. He reprinted an article from The Rainbow cautioning against fixing a time, and he printed a letter from a Robert Baker of Kansas who asked: "Who of us will live to see the end of the year 1878? Or will our blessed Lord come and restore all things back to their former beauty?" Baker advised the brethren to be "more earnest in the cause of the Lord."8 In fairness to Chaplin, he wrote for a diverse audience who debated issues freely in his paper.
In February 1878 Chaplin printed Russell’s Object and Manner, sending it out as a supplement. In a follow-up article he explained where in her and Russell differed: "We think that the coming Messiah is the same Jesus that died, was buried, rose from the dead, and subsequently ascended from Mouth Olivet into heaven." He rejected the "spirit bodies" arguments found in Object and Manner. He looked "for more tangibility in the resurrection" than did Russell. He closed by observing that "The ‘fair chance’ part of the supplement will probably please some of your readers."9 J. B. Cook’s negative review of Object and Manner, noted in the previous chapter, was published in the June 26, 1878, Restitution. It is noteworthy that Cook waited until April past before blasting Barbour. The degree of outrage found in Cook’s review probably indicates a degree of disappointment.
Sending out Object and Manner as a supplement to The Restitution and to Prophetic Times was a last-ditch effort to bring as many into the Light as was possible. Results seem to have been small, a poor return on the money invested. Barbour published a single sheet double issue to Herald of the Morning sometime in the in the spring, giving "the time arguments." No known copies exist, but Barbour claimed it had as much matter as two copies of Russell’s Object and Manner. Ten thousand copies were printed, but not all were circulated, and one could still order it from The Herald in the 1880s.10 "We tried to make it clear," Barbour recalled, "that [Christ] was present, and that coming into the true condition, he might materialize and meet us at any moment."11 Michael Baxter, who seems to have jumped on nearly every prophetic speculation, published a handbill widely circulated in London, "announcing the approaching translation to heaven of 144,000 Christians without dying." We couldn’t locate this tract, but it was circulated at the end of 1877 and early in 1878.12
The spring of 1878 came and went. A Yellow Fever epidemic broke out in the Mississippi Valley. Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as President, even though by actual count he lost the election. Democrats were accused of massive voter fraud, and a special commission sustained the charge. There were tensions between Mexico and the United States over cross-border raids by Mexican bandits. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. William "Boss" Tweed died in jail. England and Russia were on the brink of war. Harley Proctor introduced Ivory Soap, causing Americans to rejoice that they no longer had to fish around the bottom of the tub to find a lost bar of soap. Pope Leo XIII issued a papal bull entitled Inscrutabili Dei Consilio bemoaning the loss of papal influence over public institutions. But nowhere, least of all in Pittsburgh or Rochester, or in any of the little towns and villages where Barbourite adherents lived, was anyone "changed in the twinkling of an eye" or raised to the heavens. Their disappointment was profound.
A. H. Macmillan’s Claims
A. H. Macmillan reported a claim made by "Pittsburgh newspapers" that Russell "was on the Sixth Street bridge dressed in a white robe on the night of the Memorial of Christ’s death, expecting to be taken to heaven." We could not find the original of this newspaper report, though we do not doubt its existence. The fact of the report is interesting, but the conclusions many have drawn from it are distorted. The report, no matter who printed it, was long removed from the events of 1878. Macmillan’s association dates from 1900.13 The newspaper article could be no older than that and is probably dated later, perhaps after 1906. As Macmillan has it, Russell’s reaction was to laugh "heartily" and say:
I was in bed that night between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M. However, some of the more radical ones might have been there, but I was not. Neither did I expect to be taken to heaven at that time, for I felt there was much work to be done preaching the Kingdom message to the peoples of the earth before the church would be taken away.14
One should dispose of the ascension-robe claim first. It was an old, often-repeated calumny. Everyone with clearly defined end-of-the age expectations was subject to it, though there is not one verifiable instance. It is especially out of place when applied to Russell. He expected a change to a spirit body, making any self-made ascension robe irrelevant. He understood the "white robes" of Revelation 6:11 to be symbolic, not literal. That he or any of the Pittsburgh believers dressed in robes is a newspaper reporter’s lie. The story delights Russell’s enemies who discount his denial, and others simply repeat it, believing it to be accurate because it saw print.
If Macmillan reports Russell’s belief that "there was much work to be done" and that he didn’t "expect to be taken to heaven at that time" with any sort of accuracy, then we must presume his doubts to have arisen in the last weeks before April 1878. Any time prior to the spring of 1878, we find Russell and Barbour believing with equal fervor that translation impended.15 It is apparent that he believed and preached that translation was due. Taken as a whole, this seems a very unreliable report. But we come away from it noting two things: There was among the Pittsburgh brethren a "more radical" party; they were somewhat fragmented.
We see Macmillan’s claim that Russell did not expect translation and that he saw a vast field of work ahead as wrong. Russell wrote that "since 1878 (and never before that) we have felt at liberty to call God’s children out of the nominal churches to a position … where they would be free to serve Him fully."16 This clearly dates his vision of a vast work to after the disappointment. He also, as we shall see, expected translation in the spring of 1878.
That some doubts were expressed is verified by J. H. Paton: "That translation was not due in the Spring of 1878 is certain, and yet too many were inclined to treat others as not ‘in the light" for not expecting it then." Paton described some in the movement as "positive" and "dogmatic," observing that being so "does not make anything true, even if it does make an impression."17 Be that as it may, any doubts Russell had were, as we shall see, nascent, tenuous.
Barbour introduced the concept of translation as due in 1878 as a mere possibility. Stating his belief that the Resurrection to heaven started in 1875, he suggested that translation might "commence this side of 1878."18 He felt it would happen no later than 1878. His later statements were more positive. In September 1875 he wrote that the Spring of 1878 marked the second half of a "double" or parallel between first century and nineteenth century events. He looked for "the kingdom" to manifest itself. "To us," he wrote, "this is an important matter; and the evidence seems clear that ‘the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand;’ and that we have entered into the transition, or ‘time of harvest.’"19 Those who doubted were treated as not in the light of Christ. Post-failure, Barbour denied believing that Christ came as King in 1878. This was, of course, an obvious lie.20
Doubts grew as April approached and events did not play out as they expected. Barbour tried to assuage them: "We had often talked together, that if the time went by we should certainly have an increase of light as on former occasions."21 They were fervent, fully convinced, and they were disappointed. "We carefully re-examined our position in the dim light we then had," Barbour wrote. "We were disappointed, having expected that … we should certainly be caught away to meet him. From that time until the autumn, we were all trying to make our lamps throw more light."22 For some the disappointment was especially bitter. They first looked to a date in 1877. The Lockport and Hudson, New York, groups looked to Sunday, July 8, 1877, but on what basis we do not know.23 Failure of hopes for 1878 was for them especially bitter.
With April’s passage, several doctrinal re-examinations took place. Members of the Allegheny City congregation met to consider matters. William Mann reports this, writing that they "looked back over the chronology, and found it was solid as ever." This was a replay of their approach in 1873, 1874 and 1875. Mann focused on the Elijah "type," their belief that the prophet’s life patterned last-day events. Some fourteen years later, he explained his thinking:
After the disappointments, we looked back over the chronology, and it was solid as ever. Then it began to dawn on me that in following that life journey, we should have seen that if one part was typical, all was typical; and therefore the life, the last journey and the culmination, horses, chariots, fire and ascension, were alike figures of good things to come. A chariot of fire may seem a strange conveyance, but it has a wonderfully purifying effect and a tremendous lifting power. The translation is first ‘from the power of darkness … into the kingdom of his dear son’ Then the progression is ‘Transformed by renewing your mind." It now becomes our privilege to be "raised up," "from the earth, and from earthly things even to sit in ‘The Heavenlies’ with Christ."24
He was reaching for any solution to their misinterpretation short of abandoning their chronology. He saw the inconsistencies in their previous interpretations and replaced them with this. He does not seem to have focused on a continuing work but focused on Christian personality development. When Mann wrote this in 1892, Paton suggested that none of this was a specifically last-times work, writing that "the translation from darkness to light, from Satan’s kingdom to Christ’s and the transforming of the mind have been possible all through the age as well as now, so has it been the privilege of sitting with Christ in the heavenlies."25
Barbour was committed to a pattern of failure, disappointment, and new speculation. He followed in William Miller’s footsteps, seeing each failure as proof of divine leading, if only one could determine what it was. Barbour saw himself as God’s last-days spokesman to the faithful. This was irrational. He took upon himself authority and responsibility he did not have, putting himself at odds with those who did not follow him. There is no other way to describe Barbour than as fanatically blinded to failure. The string of failed dates and expectations between 1873 and 1878 was, for him, proof that they were experiencing advancing truth. It was a chant, almost a song for him.
Others accepted Barbour’s self-definition. James R. Deputy, an adherent from Missouri who’d entered the movement in 1871, writing to Barbour some twenty years after the 1878 failure, was as adamantine as ever:
Being rooted and grounded in these grand truths concerning the restitution of all things, no power on earth can wrest them from us. I have been in this movement for twenty-seven years, and at no time have felt like giving it up. And although getting on in years, my desire and faith is that I shall live to be change to incorruption without tasting death. How much I would like to be at your meetings, and hear you talk about the return of our coming King.26
Others expressed similar views. An H. R. Perine of Denver, Missouri, wrote:
My confidence in this, as a prophetic movement, is unchangeable. Have been a reader of your writings since 1873; have been confident all through this quarter of a century, that we were in a shining pathway that would lead us on to the consummation of our hopes. Have never doubted this; hence, disappointments have not destroyed my confidence and rejoicing.27
Barbour’s self-anointing as God’s last-days prophet meant that he couldn’t simply say, "We’ve been wrong all along. I am sorry." If he had the character of George Storrs, he would have done so. He did not, the difference being that Storrs saw himself as one of God’s servants and Barbour saw himself as God’s servant. Barbour addressed the issue in the June 15, 1878, Herald of the Morning. He recognized that adherents were grievously disappointed:
From 1843 to the present time, the light on the Time and manner of the advent of Christ has been continually on the increase; and as we have passed terminus after terminus of the prophetic and chronological periods … the pathway after each crisis had been passed was made to shine more and more. And now, what we had fully believed to be the last of those terminal points has been reached and passed, and the hoped-for deliverance is still unrealized. And the question is again forced upon us, What scriptural position, if any, can now be occupied in harmony with all this unfolding light in relation to the closing work of this dispensation?
Barbour re-stated his belief that they were entering "the time of trouble" in fulfillment of Daniel 12:1. There "was no room for doubt" that they were, he wrote. "Our reasoning was, that this time of trouble could not progress far until after translation" because the saints were to judge the world. Barbour had to give the whole thing up as bad work or find events to fill the time between when "the time of trouble" began and change to spirit life. He presented a new scheme. Pointing to the "wine press" judgment depicted in Isaiah chapter sixty-three, he suggested his readers "learn that when this ‘winepress’ is trodden, the saints are not yet with Christ." There was more work to do. The "wheat" Christians still in the nominal churches were to be gathered. And the "wheat" had to mature:
If we are not mistaken, there will be a ripening of ‘wheat;’ a sanctification of the spiritual element of the churches, during the next few years by the spread of these glorious truths, which shall not leave a kernel ungarnered. God is in this movement, the glorious light of truth is shining from his word, as it has never shone before; and his ministering spirits are abroad in the land …. And in this dark hour, that is settling down on the nations, the angels are to gather the wheat; not to a locality, but to a condition of victory over the world.
Implicit in this is a claim to a special place in dispensing truth. Barbour’s conviction that he possessed and dispensed "truth" depended on his self-view. He was God’s special spokesman. Those who remained unshaken saw him as such. One woman addressed him as "Dear Leader."28 Helen H. Landis of Rochester, New York, believed every setback was proof of increasing light: "I have been in this glorious pathway since 1875, during which time the light has steadily increased until now (1898), when the pathway is illuminated even to the perfect day."29 To doubt Barbour was to sin. To fail to follow him into every speculation and doctrinal twist was to fall out of the light.
"Although we expected translation this present spring, we find the road leads on a little further," Barbour wrote. He postulated a short period during which true "wheat" Christians would mature and pass through a "fiery" test. "The time for the gathering the wheat of the gospel church may be three and a half years, but cannot be determined with accuracy," he wrote. "Yet, until the wheat is gathered, the change of the living from mortality to immortality cannot be expected." By the end of his article he was more positive: "The work of the gathering of the wheat … will doubtless be about three and a-half years."
Barbour was more disappointed than he admitted in the June 15th article. After the 1843-1844 failure he was ashamed to have been associated with the Advent Movement. Yet his disappointment then was followed by a reaffirmation of belief with additions and alterations to account for failure.30 He continued that patern after the 1873, 1874, and 1875 failures. These were personal crises calling his faith and authority into question. After the 1875 failure, he published a letter suggesting that he and his assistant editors were like the Two Witnesses of Revelation. He defined the movement as the faithful virgins with himself as head, and his adherents believed that.31
Some decades later, Edward Payson Woodward, one of Barbour’s associates in the 1873 movement, commented on Barbour’s exegesis. Woodworth’s comments in their entirety are a bit convoluted and a whole lot disingenuous. He avoided saying that he was involved in the 1873 movement. He avoided using Barbour’s name or Wendell’s. Yet, he touched on the essential weakness of the Barbourite movement:
Certain persons satisfied themselves that Jesus Christ would return to this world in A. D. 1874. The prophecies on which their belief rested were to them so plain, that there seems to have been no doubt in their minds – He would come THEN.
This ‘set time’ went by, and Christ did not appear. Yet, so minute had been the predictions and so positive that statements concerning the expected fulfillment of Prophecy, that (like others previously) it was hard for the men of 1874 to acknowledge … "we were wrong: Christ has not come as we expected.’ On the contrary, they … repeated what had … been said by some connected with the 1844 Time Movement – ‘We were right regarding the Time, though wrong concerning the Event.’ Instead of a frank confession of their error (with an acknowledgement that ‘time-setting’ was wrong in itself), they tried to modify the shock of failure by affirming that Christ did return to earth in 1874, as they had predicted, only HIS RETURN WAS INVISIBLE!
Within not many sentences, Woodward wrote, "Just who originated this ‘device,’ may never be known." That is, of course, a lie. He knew very well who originated it; he had been in the movement up to at least 1874. For Woodward, the issue wasn’t sincerity. Woodward wrote of Russell: "I do not question his honesty in his first belief that the Lord would return in 1874 – others have made a similar mistake." He had, of course, to include himself, though he does not say so. The issue was failure to "admit his own mistakes, as he probably would be insistent that others should admit theirs. While all of these comments are about Barbourite, and later Watch Tower belief concerning 1874, they apply with equal ease to the 1878 disappointment.32
An article by J. H. Paton followed Barbour’s. He defended the idea of "Definite Time." He refuted several competing concepts, none of which are relevant to this history, then, in defense of Barbourite practice, wrote that their "premature expectations no more invalidate the arguments than the premature expectations of the disciples of Christ proved the incorrectness of their faith in him as the Messiah, and the "day of visitation.’" [sic] Russell didn’t contribute to the July 15th Herald/ His article appeared in the next issue.
Russell wrote a letter to someone in Lynn, Massachusetts. As Barbour has it he speculated about the "Elijah type" and "that as Elijah went back, and re-crossed the Jordan, so we must return and re-cross, or something to that effect." There is no more detail, but it is evident that Russell sought in prophetic types a remedy for their disappointment. Barbour loved to misrepresent Russell, so he doesn’t give us details but sniffs that "he said nothing to me." Barbour’s italics tell us that he thought Russell owed it to him to consult before preaching.
Barbour reported that "some of the friends" wrote to him saying they were "disgusted" and "thought it was foolish." They were "on the point of ‘giving up the whole movement.’" When this was written, it was in Barbour’s interest to blame division on Russell so he could point to Watch Tower adherents as the "foolish virgins" of Christ’s parable. The real issue for Barbour was Russell’s independent thinking. Re-examining the "Elijah type," which for "some time" they had "looked with interest,"
33 without consulting him shook Barbour’s confidence. His original statement that Russell had preached new doctrine in Lynn was questioned, and he had to retract it. He also retracted the claim that "some friends" wrote, amending it to a "sister."34
Shortly after the June 15, 1878, Herald of the Morning reached its subscribers, the principals, except for Paton who was hurt in a fall from a carriage,35 met in Rochester. Paton participated through an exchange of letters. Barbour described the meeting:
Bros. R[ussell] and K[eith] at my office in Rochester, and Bro. P[aton] by letter. I endeavored to satisfy them as to the last half of the harvest … &c. They were at first a little stiff, so that I began to realize that there was a division, yet they seemed to see the new light on the present half of the harvest, and some of its work, so much so, that they immediately commenced making a chart, then and there, at our rooms, in harmony with the new position. And, though I had misgivings, that it was not clearly seen and accepted by them; but as they arranged their charts so as to promise with the advanced light, and to show the last 3 1-2 years of the harvest, I hoped for the best.36
Barbour wanted to show them as "eagerly" seeking light from him. He used the word. But he felt his grip on their allegiance slipping. They seemed to doubt. They were reluctant. They were becoming the "foolish virgins." Barbour’s self-esteem depended on being God’s voice. His description of this meeting was designed to show him as the fountain head of truth to which others turned.37 Previously, Russell and Paton had readily deferred to Barbour. That he found them hesitant to accept his new doctrine. (He and his followers would call it the "shining path" doctrine.) Barbour was disturbed. Yet, he reported:
They came and listened to what we [he means himself] had to say; heard the explanations in relation to the last half of the harvest, as it was explained and illustrated on a small paper chart, and immediately copied that chart on a larger scale, and began to preach this advanced light as seen, as soon as they left Rochester, and also in the next articles from their pen, which appeared in the Herald.38
Upon leaving the Rochester meeting, Russell traveled to Lynn, Massachusetts, preaching the extension time for a refining judgment and in-gathering of Saints. They had maybe the next three and a half years. Whoever faulted Barbour for misrepresenting him said Russell "greatly strengthened the brethren." While grudgingly acknowledging he may have misrepresented matters, he implied that Russell rejected the "light" that extended matters to 1881. This was false.39
Barbour seems to exaggerate what ever reluctance Russell and B. W. Keith felt. The issues to which he points were not the immediate cause of group fragmentation. Russell, accepted the new emphasis on the Wedding Garment and the extended time of favor to nominal Christians gladly. Describing this period he wrote:
Coming to the spring of 1878, the time parallel to the giving up of the Jewish church and ending of the Gospel church by the Spirit, we naturally and not unreasonably expected some change of our condition, and all were more or less disappointed when nothing supernatural occurred. But our disappointment was brief, for we noticed that the Jewish church (and not the Gospel church) was the pattern of ours, and therefore we should not expect parallels to Pentecost or to anything which happened in the beginning of this church.
We looked again at the Jewish church as the pattern and saw that though Jesus gave them up as a fleshly house at the close of his three and a half years ministry, yet he continued special favor to them …
We then looked for the parallel to this in the Gospel Age and found that the nominal Gospel church, the parallel of the Jewish church, was "cast off" or "left desolate," "spewed out" at the parallel point of time, 1878, but was due to have favor as individuals for three and a half years, or until the autumn of 1881, during which they were to separate themselves from the
Some of the new thoughts were the developed as late as the spring of 1879, but the most important of them appeared in Barbour’s July 15th article. Russell noted that their disappointment was "brief." This seems to mark Barbour’s claim that they were reluctant learners as exaggerated.
None of them gave up preaching set time, but their emphasis changed. Russell noted this:
Up to 1878, though Restitution was the key note, and entire consecration was always urged, yet the time element was one of the most prominent features always. Since 1878, however, though the same time element is recognized in all our preaching and teaching, and is repeatedly referred to as a proof of our position, yet the direct teaching of time has almost stopped among all the preaching brethren-- and this too, without any pre-concerted arrangement, and without any other reason, than that other elements of truth came into greater prominence.