Friday, October 11, 2013

We're still working on the last chapter. Here is a "taste."

The Prophetic Conference


            A group of more or less prominent clergy organized a Prophetic Conference for the last two days of October and the first of November 1878. A prospectus was widely circulated stating the organizers” purpose and inviting attendance. Those promoting the conference saw the doctrine of Christ’s return as neglected, reproached:

Dear Brethren in Christ: When from any cause some vital doctrine of God”s Word has fallen into neglect or suffered contradiction and reproach, it becomes the serious duty of those who hold it, not only strongly and constantly to reaffirm it, but to seek by all means in their power to bring back the Lord’s people to its apprehension and acceptance. The precious doctrine of Christ’s second personal appearing has, we are constrained to believe, long lain under such neglect and misapprehension.

In the Word of God we find it holding a most conspicuous place. It is there strongly and constantly emphasized as a personal and imminent event, the great object of the Church’s hope, the powerful motive to holy living and watchful service, the inspiring ground of confidence amid the sorrows and sins of the present evil world, and the event that is to end the reign of Death, cast down Satan from his throne, and establish the kingdom of God on Earth. So vital, indeed, is this truth represented to be that the denial of it is pointed out as one of the conspicuous signs of apostasy of the last days. ….

Looking over the Church of God in all its branches, and listening to the clear and decisive testimony to this truth that is coming up in such volume from teachers and pastors, expositors and lay workers, evangelists and missionaries, it can but appear to us that after the long sleep of the Church, the wise are at last rising up, and trimming their lamps, in preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom.

            The conference was patterned after conferences held in the United Kingdom. Barbour commented on the conference before it took place, writing an article entitled “Prophetic Light” for the November 1878 Herald of the Morning. Few of those attending the conference read the Herald. We can safely say that almost none of them did. Of those present, we can only prove that J. A. Seiss read at least one issue. So, though he wrote it as if addressing the delegates, Barbour’s article was meant for internal consumption. He reiterated their date-based speculations:

Now, brethren, if it is truth, and facts you are after, please notice a few concerning the Jewish nation, and the time of their chastisement: facts, which if recognized, would startle the world.

The Jews have existed, as a nation, nearly four thousand years; but under two entirely distinct conditions. First, as the acknowledged favorites of Heaven, and second, as the cursed of God. The former, prior to the crucifixion; the latter, since the “veil of the temple was rent,” “and their house was left unto them desolate.”

Now we will neither lay down a premise, or make a deduction; but simply state facts which will prove that the time of Jewish dispersion is ended and that the long foretold restoration of the Jews has in fact commenced, this present year, 1878.

            The rest of the article rehearses Barbour’s “Israel’s Double” doctrine, the theory that there is a precise time correspondence between “the Jewish Dispensation” and “the Christian Dispensation.” If he intended to sway the conference, he went unheard and unheeded. The conferees” contact with Barbourite doctrine was through Russell who attended and circulated among the delegates. What should interest us is the attitude reflected in the introductory paragraphs. He presupposed that the prominent clergy who sponsored the event might not be truly interested in “the facts” and “the truth.” He had them both. They did not. They were willing to debate formally stating their premise and making deductions. He need not do that because he had the facts of scriptural fulfillment at hand. So, while the bulk of the article is rational in tone, his view of himself as the last day’s voice of God comes through clearly.

            In a later post-conference article, Barbour noted a basic agreement on the nature of the Second Advent:

The most advanced christian [sic] teachers of to-day, tell us that the coming of Christ to the “air,” where his saints are to be caught away to meet him, and his coming to the earth “with all his saints,” are not only different stages of the advent, but that these two stanges are separated by all, or, most of the time of trouble which is coming on the nations. – I believe the prophetic conference recently held in England, and also that held in N. Y. City, almost to a man, believe in more than one stage to the advent. And many of them believe the foretold “time of trouble,” is already commencing.[1]

            Russell attended the conference, engaging with delegates and promoting in a less brash way the doctrine he shared with Barbour. Evening sessions were given over to “testimony and conference on the topics of the day.”[2] The testimony period suited his purposes, and what evidence we have suggests he used it to promote his beliefs. He does not tell us the names of those with whom he discussed prophetic themes, but we know from other sources the names of two and can with high probability of success guess at several others. One of the most interesting records is found in Jenny Smith’s diary. We could not locate the original diary and it may not still exist, but Smith published key entries. We find this entry for November 1, 1878:

At Sister Clark’s. Two more interesting days have passed. This has been a special privilege. Yesterday A. M. went to Dr. Tyng’s church. Attended the convention met to discuss “The Second Coming of Christ;” was surprised to meet acquaintances from all parts of the land. Had the pleasure of meeting several with whom I have corresponded – Rev. H. L. Hastings, Dr. Charles Cullis and others. Brother Russell of Pittsburg, [sic] would have me take lunch with him. …

Afternoon. – The meeting was very interesting; Dr. Feltwell went with me to see Harriet Britton, the great missionary. Returned for evening-meeting; heard several great speakers. In the afternoon had a number of calls. Miss Stevens says she read of my restoration while in Paris, France.[3]

            Jennie Smith (1842-1924) was a railroad evangelist. Typhoid fever left her an invalid, but she felt called to evangelism. Unable to walk, she traveled in a wheeled cot, using her affliction to draw others into conversation. Her experiences led her to believe that the un-churched were often more charitable than regular attenders:

As I am compelled to travel in the baggage car on account of my cot, I have had ample opportunity to test the hearts of those men, who some think are void of feeling. I must say they are, with few exceptions, a most kindhearted and obliging set of men. Although they may resent it at first, I am satisfied they appreciate any true interest in their eternal welfare.

I have seen the time when I was so impressed I could not refrain from speaking to a man about his soul’s salvation, though I did not know but I should be cursed for it. Yet, in view of his danger, I felt fearless and lost all scruples as to my position. I looked to Jesus for strength, and before I left the car that man, with tearful eyes, thanked me as he grasped my hand, saying, “Would to God more Christians would deal with us as patiently and perseveringly.” If social and reading-rooms were established at all points where the hands who are off duty could have a pleasant lounging place of their own, scores of souls might be saved from temptation and ruin. Through conversation with such persons I have been impressed with the thought of the privations which the public demand from railroad hands, street-car drivers and conductors, livery men, firemen, policemen, and others, including domestic servants; and I fear we, as a Christian people, are not as charitable and do not feel the interest and sympathy we should for those whose occupations necessarily deprive them of Sabbath privileges.[4]

            In March 1878 she regained her ability to walk. She believed it was the result of a divine healing. In this era Russell was open to the idea that faith cures were real, and he would not have disputed this.      It is tempting to speculate on Russell’s attraction to Jennie Smith. However, we can’t go further than what she wrote in her diary. He took her to lunch. We can note, however, that there is a slight resemblance to Maria Ackley, who he married the next year.

Smith notes her association with “Dr. Feltwell.” Russell fell in with this circle and Feltwell was attracted to Barbourite theology. William Vessels Feltwell was a pastor in the Reformed Episcopal Church, a sect of that church formed in 1873 as a result of the tendency of some Episcopalians and Anglicans to move toward Catholicism.[5] Feltwell was of the organizers, leaving behind thirteen years of ministry in the Protestant Episcopal Church.[6] Russell and Feltwell discussed Barbourite doctrine, and Feltwell expressed interest. While Jennie Smith falls out of the picture, Feltwell’s interest became an incident in the Atonement controversy. Not long after the conference, he wrote to Barbour addressing the Atonement issue. Barbour extracted a paragraph, publishing it in the Herald:

I believe the original will clear up the difficulty which rests in many minds regarding this passage, [1 Peter 2:24.] and perhaps the whole subject of substitution. I am inclined to believe the popular substituting sacrifice of our dear Lord is sentimental. There certainly is no substitutionary idea in connection with the fall of the first Adam and his descendants; and I cannot discern any in the second Adam and his seed. I am much interested and instructed, in your arguments on the atonement.[7]

Russell was taken aback. It seemed that Feltwell endorsed “the new views strongly.” When he next saw Feltwell in March 1879 he raised the issue:

I was much surprised, and seeing the brother in March, I inquired; why? He informed me that the article referred to had not stated him correctly – that he had written to Bro. B. to have it corrected, and said he, “Didn't you see the correction in the March Herald?” No, I answered. Then he got me his copy. There it was – Bro. B. regrets at any error, &c, and a quotation from Bro. F's. last letter: “I am now and always have been a believer in the vicarious atonement of Christ.” This seemed all right and I know that it was possible for any one to make a mistake, when merely making an extract from another's letter, and I was rejoiced to think that the correction was so freely made.

But judge of my surprise and sorrow when upon attempting to show it to Bro. P. a few days after, I found that in my March No. a notice of Bro. Rice's paper “The Last Trump;” occupied its place – How was it in yours? We could not understand it, it seemed like double dealing – too much management for a Herald of the Millennial Morning. Alas!, I said to myself; is this the fruit of the new views of the atonement? [8]

            When Russell finally addressed this in print, Barbour politely called Feltwell a liar and admitted his complicity in furthering the lie. Barbour called Feltwell’s letter “a frank but private statement of his views.” He suggested that he should not have published it, “but as it was among the first letters which took a decided stand for the advancing truth, I did make an extract from it, without thinking of the trouble it might make between him and his church.” “Some weeks” later Feltwell wrote Barbour asking for a retraction:

He sent the second latter, informing me of the trouble in which it had involved him, and earnestly asking me to publish the second letter merely to relieve him from that difficulty. I concluded that by publishing it in the Phila. Edition, so as to reach his persecutors, would meet his supposed necessity, without doing injustice to the truth, among the general readers of the herald; and acted on that suggestion; and still believe that, under all the circumstances, I acted wisely.[9]

Barbour said he couldn’t publish the second letter in all editions without explaining all the circumstances which he was unwilling to do. Feltwell was threatened with loss of income and position, Barbour said. There seems insufficient evidence on which to form a firm conclusion. Feltwell did not present it in this light; at least Russell didn’t understand this from his conversation with Feltwell. Barbour was always the hero of his own story and never above distorting the truth to further his own ends. But we have no basis upon which to discount Barbour’s account.

Feltwell drops out of the picture here. The enduring significance of this event rests in what it reveals about how matters stood between Barbour and Russell by mid-year 1879. Russell saw Barbour as controlling and as distorting the truth. Barbour suggested that Russell made an issue out of the Feltwell incident to find “some apparent evil” in him. It was meant, Barbour wrote, to support Russell’s “boyish act in demanding the entire control of the paper, or, the alternative, another paper for the same list of subscribers.”
Russell left unnamed the others to whom he spoke. But after explaining where he differed from some them, he added this interesting comment:  

I knew many of these brethren and loved and honored them; but now I love and honor them more; and on points of difference, we shall doubtless come closer together, if we all remember that we are still learners; and also that we are to walk in the light, grow in grace and knowledge; and in love let such as are strong, bear the infirmities of the weak.[10] 

            Though we can say with certainty that he knew Seiss, and with strong probability that he previously met Horace Hastings, we are left to suppose on slim evidence who most of these are. But we can note that during his years with the Allegheny Bible Class he wrote to and traveled to meet many of those writing and preaching on prophecy. This extends the sphere of pre-Barbour influences, putting the lie to those who would have all of his background be Adventist.



Reaction to the Conference

            Much of the religious press was antagonistic. The New York Independent, a Congregationalist magazine, editorialized: 

Their way of considering Christ’s kingdom as visible, physical, and political is intensely Jewish and non-Christian in its character. It proves somewhere a false exegesis – that a doctrine is deduced from Scripture, which is not in harmony with the spiritual nature of the Christian system. There is no deeper truth in the Bible than this: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” Those who are now looking for such a glorious personal Advent with the succeeding political reign of Christ in Jerusalem, seem to us to dishonor Gospel dispensation.  

            The Independent’s opinion was echoed by others. What makes this and other comments interesting to us is that they are exactly the same arguments used against Barbour and Russell. The National Baptist suggested that Christians should ignore prophetic studies because they were not meant to be understood until fulfilled and because they diverted attention from social and political issues: 

We do not hold that we are to live each day as though we expected the Lord to come on that day, any more than we are to live each day as though that day would be our last. If we believed that the Lord was coming to-day, we should take very little trouble about next year’s elections, or about any future event. We believe we are each day to discharge the duties of that day. Practically, and so far as regards our future state, the hour of death, the hour of the Christian’s release, is the Coming of the Lord. This may come at any day, at any hour. And it becomes us to be in readiness for it.

            This represents a point of view Russell confronted and rejected.            

            The Interior editorialized:

This convention gives a new impulse and added respectability to a doctrinal affectation which is much more fashionable, just now, than godliness.

No doubt it is pleasant to one who loves the good things of the world – honor, fame, power, exalted rank – and who is not specially solicitous that others shall enjoy the same to “stand and wait,” as Dr. Tyng said in his address that they were doing, in the blessed hope that the Lord will suddenly come bringing all these glorious things to the, unearned, and damnation to fourteen hundred millions more who sit in the shadow of ignorance. 

            These criticisms represent a growing and fairly important rejection of millenarianism. Everything said against the conference would be asserted against Watch Tower belief and against Russell personally. 

Barbour’s Reaction 

            Barbour didn’t attend but read the published reports. He was disappointed that the conference didn’t echo his own views: 

After a careful perusal of the report of the “Prophetic Conference,” I feel dissatisfied. From the character of the speakers, and the nature of the subjects advertised, I had looked for some advanced light. From the paper on the “Times of the Gentile,” by Rev. J.[ohn] D. Duffield, I had supposed something definite would have forced itself into notice.[11]

            Barbour reasserted his belief that Gentile Times would end in 1914, moving from that on to other issues:

Everyone at that conference professes to believe that Christ will come with all his saints to the mount of Olives, [sic] at the end of the times of the Gentiles; and they profess to believe that it will be within the limits of this present living generation. And yet with all the present indications of the return of the Jews, the subject of the Times of the Gentiles, although advertised, does not appear in the reports. I do not know how the Dr. handles the subject, but I do know he could not have presented it in its fullness, without approximating to something like a definite conclusion; but the paper did not appear, nor was there one particle of advanced light by which we might presume that the advent was nearer than it was one thousand years ago.

The different phases of the advent, coming for his saints, or coming with his saints’ coming to gather his elect, or coming to the mount of Olives, after they are gathered, were all one and the same, so far as expressed by them. The signs of the times, so pregnant with the coming time of trouble, in which Daniel’s people are to be delivered, or any other indications of the coming crisis, were passed over unnoticed. There seems to have been a pre-arranged determination that no reason for apprehending the advent near should be presented. To say that it may come to-morrow, brings no reproach, but to offer any reason why it may come in our day, savors of “Millerism;” and so they cramped themselves into a nut-shell”

            These were Barbour’s pet issues, and he continued in this vein for several more paragraphs, quoting from the conference report. He sent a copy of the December Herald of the Morning to all the conference speakers, so it was to them directly that Barbour said:

The investigation of prophecy, and especially of the prophetic measurements, has a reproach associated with it which few have courage to face. And yet these prophetic measurements are a part of the “Holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation.”

I am convinced your gathering at New York will, in the providence of God, bring forth good fruit, by turning the attention of thousands, to this great impending event; but a vague and dark “expectation,” such as your words are calculated to arouse, is a mere sign of the times. And to stop there, will leave you, as to the second coming, in a parallel condition to the Jewish church at the first advent; when yet notwithstanding the universal expectation, they have suffered an age of chastisement, “because they knew not the time of their visitation.”[12]

            Barbour was scolding where Russell was not. This difference between the two persisted until Barbour’s death in 1905. Barbour saw himself as the ultimate teacher. In this period Russell saw himself as a co-laborer even with those who disagreed with him. They were all learners, Russell felt. Even after he came to see himself as God’s appointed servant, Russell seemed eternally surprised when his view of truth was rejected harshly. Barbour expected it, and his personality drew it on him. It was a self-certifying view. Christians should expect rejection. They rejected his message. He was, therefore, the God-chosen messenger.


Ambivalence to Rejection


            Russell and Paton continued to associate with and support the Herald. Paton continued to preach in the Midwest. Russell sent money to Barbour. Both events are reported in the December 1878 issue of Herald of the Morning.[13]Additional funds from Russell are note in the January and February 1879 issues. Paton continued to write for the Herald; an article by him entitled “The Kingdom” appeared in the February issue as well.



            Barbour noted declining reader interest, inserting this notice in the February 1879 issue:


Subscribers for six months who received the first monthly paper, the July number for 1878, have now received two numbers beyond the time of their subscriptions; and as many of these have been sent by third parties, it is quite possible some of them do not wish the paper continued, hence we must drop all such names, unless we hear from them.


He would send the paper free to the poor, he said, and payment in postage was acceptable. He offered to send the paper free for two months to any who wished to examine it.

Russell and others noted his tendency to print letters favorable to his new views on Atonement and Resurrection. Contrary opinion existed and shows up in the articles that addressed readers’ questions. A reader asked him how he reconciled his “latest views on the resurrection with the Elijah type.” He reiterated that he hadn’t previously examined the atonement doctrine and its ramifications: “I never had any view, only a confused idea, until I studied the subject.” He provided little explanation, but observed that “there is no room for difference of opinion.”[14]




[1]               N. H. Barbour: Time Arguments, Herald of the Morning, February 1879, page 33.
[2]               The Prophetic Conference: October 30, 31, November 1, 1878. Christ’s Second Coming, New York Tribune, Extra Number 46, page 4.
[3]               Jennie Smith: From Baca to Beulah: From a Couch of Suffering to My Feet, to Exalt His Holy Name, Garrigues Brothers, Philadelphia, 1889, pages 257-258.
[4]               Jennie Smith: Valley of Baca: A Record of Triumph and Suffering, Hitchcock and Walden, Cincinnati, 1880, page 268.
[5]               Reformed Episcopal history is not relevant here, but if our readers wish to pursue this they may consult G. D. Cummin’s Primitive Episcopacy: A Return to the "Old Paths" of Scripture and the Early Church. A Sermon, Preached in Chicago, Dec. 14, 1873. At the Consecration of the Rev. Charles Edward Cheney, D.D., as a Bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church, Edward O. Jenkins, New York, 1874.
[6]               The Episcopal Schism, New York World, January 6, 1874. A. C. Guelzo: For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians, Pennsylvania State University, 1994, pages 158.
[7]               Feltwell to Barbour in Correspondence, Herald of the Morning¸ January 1879, page 23.
[8]               C. T. Russell: To Readers of the Herald of the Morning, Supplement to Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1879.
[9]               N. H. Barbour: Questions and Answers, Herald of the Morning, August 1879, page 27.
[10]             C. T. Russell: The Prophetic Conference, Herald of the Morning, December 1878, page 84.
[11]             John Duffield was a professor at Princeton University.
[12]             N. H. Barbour: Christ’s Second Coming, Herald of the Morning, December 1878, pages 84-86.
[13]             A letter from Mrs. D. B. Wolfe of Nevada, Ohio, reports Paton’s lectures there. The Letters Received column reports money sent from Russell. Both are on page 82 of that issue.
[14]             N. H. Barbour: Questions and Answers, Herald of the Morning¸ February 1879, page 39.


roberto said...

I find your extract very interesting.

Two questions.

The conference was after the disappointment for the 1878 rapture and after Russell's opposition to Barbour about the Atonement. You write: "Barbour's article was meant for internal consumption". Do you think that Barbour was conscious and afraid of an imminent unbridgeable internal rift?

You write: "But we can note that during his years with the allegheny Bible Class he wrote to and travelled to meet many of those writing and preaching on prophesy. This extend the sphere of pre-Barbour influnces, etc." The statement is about the period 1869-1876, right?

Finally. Excellent work about the biographical sketches of Jenny Smith (intriguing) and Feltwell.

Thank you.

roberto said...

You write:
"Feltwell drops out of the picture here. The enduring significance of this event rests in what it reveals about how matters stood between Barbour and Russell by mid-year 1879"

I suppose you intend: "by mid-year 1878".