Usually, we post partially written chapters on the private blog. I’m making an exception this one time. The private blog will undergo some house cleaning next week. One of those with access will lose it; they don’t seem to understand the privacy rules, and they haven’t answered my email. Their account is toast.
We don’t anticipate adding new readers to the private blog. Present me with a really compelling reason to add you, and I’ll reconsider.
New research has already changed our outline for volume 2 of A Separate Identity. I’ve posted below an extract. It’s very rough draft, raw really. Don’t treat this as the final word. This is on-going research. It may change. But it will show you where we’re headed. We always welcome your contributions as long as they’re backed by documentation.
Here is the Rough Draft, untitled chapter:
Zion’s Watch Tower believers did not constitute an independent religion in 1879 or for some years afterward. As we demonstrated in volume one of this book, they were unified only by belief that Christ was (or might be) invisibly present. In many other respects they were disunited. They read a variety of religious papers other than Herald of the Morning and Zion’s Watch Tower. Some of them continued to hold to Inherent Immortality Doctrine. Barbour recounts an instance of that during the Atonement debate, and Russell’s visit to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was hosted by H. E. Hoke, an Evangelical Adventist who believed Inherent Immortality doctrine.
Entering the Field
Albert Jones felt called to evangelize sometime in November 1879. He asked to be excused from his post as a “special contributor” to Zion’s Watch Tower. Russell announced this is the December issue:
Bro. A. D. Jones felt a strong desire for some time to give more of his time to preaching the glad tidings. He started out this month, going wherever the Lord may open the way. God will bless him in his endeavor to bless others. May he be used to the glory of our Lord.
Our brother has other [business] calls upon whatever spare time he may have, and asks to be excused as a regular correspondent; so what is the people’s gain is the Watch Tower’s loss. We hope, however, for occasional brief articles from his pen.
Brooklyn, New York, Eagle
The same issue that announced Jones’ evangelical call contained this announcement: “Almost all the brethren whose names appear on our list as regular contributors, the editor, and three others who do not write for Zion’s Watch Tower, but who are in sympathy and accord with its teachings, are preaching the good news wherever the Lord of the Harvest opens the way. Requests for their services may be sent to this office.” We are uncertain who the “three others” were. One of them may have been J. S. Lawver.
Paton’s Preaching Tour
Paton planned a preaching tour of the mid-west which was noticed in the January 1880, Watch Tower: “Bro Paton purposes visiting several places in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa during January and February. Any living in that direction who desire meeting should address him at once.” The February issue noted that Paton’s trip was delayed while he was writing “a book which will be of general interest to you all.” He made the trip in March or April. We couldn’t find any newspaper notices of this trip. The only notice is found in a letter from Avis Hamlin to Barbour, dated April 1880. Though Hamlin would briefly adopt Watch Tower theology, ending up with Paton’s brand of Universal Salvation, in 1880 she was sympathetic to Barbour. She was unhappy with Paton’s visit. She was away when he was in Elyria, Ohio, and returned to find “things a good deal mixed,” her quaint way of describing controversy in the congregation. Barbour visited briefly afterward, apparently by her invitation. His visit swayed the congregation back to Barbour’s new theology. Vacillation among believers in Elyria would end in some months, but in early 1880 Avis Hamlin thanked God for Barbour’s visit and believed his newly expressed prophetic scheme. The situation in Elyria was probably typical of that elsewhere.
We don’t have a verifiable itinerary, though we have possible, even likely, locations for Paton’s preaching tour. Letters expressing interest appear in the Herald of the Morning, many of which come from the Mid-Western States. Details are often lacking for names found in the Money Received columns, leaving us with names only or a name and a state of origin. Some are more specific and we can trace the names to specific persons. The biographies, such as they are, of those we can identify tell us much about the kind of person interested in the Barbourite and later Watch Tower movements
Dr. Victor Caillot, born France 1838-39 and resident near Plymouth, Indiana, wrote in 1878. His name is in one of the money received columns. William N. Sarvis, who lived near Dwight, Illinois, was a subscriber. An R. C. Laine wrote from West Jersey, Illinois. He appears but once in the Herald, in the July 1875 issue. He wasn’t an Adventist, but was strongly interested in Christ’s return. There was a Second Adventist congregation in West Jersey, but we don’t know if they were described as such only because they looked for the near return of Christ or if they were truly Adventists.
Hiram Willett [also spelled Willitt], a hardware merchant of Toulon, Illinois, described himself as “an old ‘43 believer.” Willetts are mentioned in Restitution as Age-to-Come believers, but we couldn’t locate Hiram’s name there. Toulon was about nine miles from West Jersey by wagon road. Willett and Laine almost certainly knew each other.
After the Millerite disappointment Willett turned to the Baptist Church. With a majority of the congregation, he withdrew in February 1868 and formed a new Baptist congregation. Division, back-biting, and other abuses were cited. A local history recounted the trouble:
Abuses of power on the one hand, and fierce resistance on the other, charges, conflicts of opinion, expulsions for heresy, impeachment and excommunication of one leader, only to effect a change, not a redress of grievances, until after a bitter experience with a so-called revivalist, Elder S. A. Estee, February 1868, it was finally “resolved, that whereas, the troubles and difficulties existing in the First Baptist Church of Toulon have reached so great a magnitude, that we can see no way of settling them so we can live in peace, and advance the cause of Christ, therefore, resolved, that all the members of this church who subscribe to this resolution, have the privilege of asking for letters of dismission, and that the same be granted by the church.”
Here now was revolution and secession all in a nutshell; and a fiercer than political contest was waged by a few determined spirits to prevent the dissolution of the old church; but the majority triumphed and the vote to disband was cast
February 29th, 1868.
And “all the property of the first Church, was to be surrendered to a
committee, to be held for the benefit of another Baptist church hereafter to be
organized.” This majority then adjourned “to meet in Mr. Hiram Willett’s store
building the next Sunday morning at .”
Willett withdrew from the Baptists in 1870, “because he ‘could no longer conscientiously maintain and indorse the articles of faith as interpreted by the church.’” A contemporary writer looked with distain on the disruptive, abusive Baptist churches of Toulon, Illinois. Recounting the divisions, he wrote:
Probably the generation that took part in the conflict of 1868, must pass from the scene of action, ere all the old wounds will heal. But we can hardly forbear to note in passing, that this body in two years after its formation, gave proof of its legitimate descent, by withdrawing fellowship from Mr. Hiram Willett, because “he could no longer conscientiously maintain and endorse the articles of faith as interpreted by the church.” Is there not, a suggestion of that famous Procrustean bedstead of Attica, in such creeds?
There is no whisper of immorality against this man, no charge of duty neglected; on the contrary, he was, until this change of opinion, a pillar of the church. But he comes to believe “that the second coming of Christ is near at hand, that the weight of evidence in the Scriptures represents the dead in an unconscious state until the resurrection; also, that in the judgment day the wicked shall be destroyed with an everlasting destruction, but the righteous be received into life eternal.” Consequently he is a heretic, judged by Baptist standards, or the standards of many other orthodox churches. And this may be all right; we but record it, as a scrap of church history for 1870. But … we would ask no better material out of which to mould a progressive religious organization, than that which has been condemned by these two Baptist churches, as heretical in the last twenty-five or thirty years.
There were other Second Adventists in the area, found primarily among the Swedish settlers. A congregation of “independent Adventists” looked forward to the April 1875 date promoted by Barbour and Thurman. We do not know if Willett associated with them. Documentation is slight and conflicting.
James G. Mitchell of Bristol, Indiana, entered the movement in mid to late 1877. A letter from him to Barbour dated
August 24, 1878,
appears in the September 1877 Herald of the Morning:
I … have examined your argument carefully, with a desire to know the truth. I have received more light in reading those papers than in reading the Bible for the last twenty years. When I read my Bible now, many passages … which were before dark, now seem plain. … I must say the Bible is a new book to me.
Mitchell is best known to history for running a way station on the Underground Railroad, one of the many safe houses for escaping slaves. Bartholomew’s Pioneer History of Elkhart County, Indiana, Pioneer History of Elkhart County, Indiana, With Sketches and Stories, says of Mitchell and others from Elkhart County: “these men were prominent citizens of the county in their day and generation … . All of them were farmers during part of their lives and it was at their farm homes that the stations were operated.”
The strength of the Barbourite movement was in the Mid-West, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. Paton’s preaching tour and that by Russell that followed it did not establish new congregations. Their tours were meant to persuade previous interest to steady the course. Paton’s tours had other motives too. Paton continued to see himself as a clergyman. While Russell did not take collections, Paton accepted fees and collections throughout his ministry. His income depended on his intenerate ministry.
The Editor’s Eastern Trip
Russell inserted a notice in the May 1880 Watch Tower, telling his readers of a proposed speaking tour.
In the June 1880 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower, Russell announced plans for a month-long speaking tour taking him to nine towns. “The stay at each place will average about two days. I shall expect almost continuous meetings while with you.”
First on his list was Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There Henry E. Hoke was in charge of the arrangements. There are several bearing the name H. E. Hoke, (father, son, grandson) and we’re uncertain which Russell hosted Russell. The interest in Chambersburg appears to have been drawn from an Evangelical Adventist conference of nearby congregations calling themselves Messiah’s Church “to distinguish this body from those holding the general name of ‘Adventists.’” Hoke was a member and an agent for The Advent Herald.
Advent Herald –
June 11, 1873 - Photo here
It is probable, though not certain, that most interest in Chambersburg area came from Evangelical Adventists. The only point of unity would have been prophetic themes. Evangelical Adventists maintained Millerite hell-fire doctrine. There was some Barbourite interest there too, though we don’t know how extensive or enduring it was. When Barbour called a “General Meeting” for late 1881, one delegate came from Chambersburg.
The Reading, Pennsylvania, meetings were hosted by Joseph Brown Keim. (His name is misspelled as Kine in the announcement.)We tell more about him in a later chapter. He was already an active Watch Tower evangelist, preaching near his home. We could not identify his religious antecedents. We presume some pre-existing interest in Reading, but cannot prove its existence. Russell was at Keim’s June 6th and 7th, 1880.
A meeting in Newark, New Jersey, was hosted by Mrs. E. M. Deems. This may have been the wife of Rev. Edward M. Deems, a Presbyterian. If so, she didn’t maintain an interest in Watch Tower teachings. It is, we think, more likely that this is a misspelling for F. M. Deans who occasionally wrote to Storrs. A poem by Deans appeared in the September 1879 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower.
A Second Adventist congregation in Newark was described as small by the
2, 1860 issue of The Troy, New York, Daily Whig: “The Second
Adventists of Newark still keep up their weekly meetings, and are firmly
grounded in the belief that the end of all things is close at hand. The number
of believers habitually in attendance at the meetings is but small, but there
is no lack of zeal or fervor.“
By Russell’s visit, there were two Adventist congregations in Newark, The First Society of Second Adventists, apparently a sort of unity congregation hosting both Life and Advent Union and Advent Christian Association believers, met at 12 Academy Street. They were “numerically weak and of slow growth. Church of the Messiah, an Evangelical Adventist congregation, met at 24 Washington Street. More importantly because their theology was much closer to Russell’s, a small One Faith congregation met in a private home. We first find them mentioned in a report about a One Faith conference held in Brooklyn, New York.They seem to have been a committed body of believers, and at least one of their number wrote a tract. Published in 1876 and entitled The True Church, it was based on Matthew , 17, and meant to “show that the True Church is neither Greek, Protestant, nor Catholic.” Interest would have come primarily from these groups.
We know little about these three small congregations. In 1874, the One Faith congregation was led by Elder Joseph Chapman. The Newark meeting was by far the most successful, and we will return to it.
At Clinton, Massachusetts, Mary T. Miner hosted Russell. She is listed in the 1880 Census as head of household, but we don’t know of she was a widow or separated from her husband. The census tells us she was thirty-eight in 1880. She was born in November 1842 and still living in 1900. We do not have a death date. We can’t identify a religious affiliation. A history of Clinton covering the years from its mid-Seventeenth Century founding to 1865 says: “The Second Adventists also held meetings in Clinton, in the Deacon John Burdett’s Hall. Their meetings were characterized by great fervor, but the Adventists did not attain sufficient numbers or financial strength to build any house of worship.” So there may have been some interest from that quarter. Russell was in Clinton on
June 16, 1880.
He was in Springfield, Massachusetts, two days later. The meeting there was hosted by “R. W. Stearns.” Rachel W. Stearns (1813-1898) was the daughter of Charles Stearns an abolitionist. She was the namesake of Rachael Stearns, a hero of the abolitionist movement. A connection through George Storrs is probable. There were Bible Examiner subscribers in Springfield, and there had been some interest in the Barbourite movement there. He veered northward to Ft. Edward, New York, where J. C. Sunderlin hosted his visit. The next stop found him in Montrose, Pennsylvania.
Montrose was on his tour’s return leg. His visit was to be hosted by Daniel D. Lathrop. We know scattered details but little else about Lathrop. He was a civil engineer; we have a record of word done for the Montrose water company in 1909. He was commissioned a notary public in September 1879. He was invited to a Shorthand Reporters’ convention in 1880, and it is probably through this connection that he was introduced to Watch Tower theology. Sunderlin was an expert stenographer too. In fiscal year 1876, Susquehanna County paid him $273.76 for his services, a considerable sum for the period. He wrote The American Stenographer: A Work Devoted Mainly to Extended Principles of the Art, Rather Than to the Details of the Whole System which was published in 1880. As were several of Russell’s earliest associates, Lathrop was a member of the Prohibition Party, and served as Secretary-Treasurer of a regional party committee.
He was secretary of the Susquehanna Farmers’ Club in 1876. Lathrop was appointed guardian of two minor children, relatives of some sort, in 1877. He died in 1912, a short obituary summarizing his life:
The death of Daniel D. Lathrop ends an interesting and useful career. Born
Dec. 25th, 1833, in Rush, the 8th
son of a family of eleven children, his father being Rev. William Lathrop, Jr.
a Baptist preacher. He secured his education at the county schools and later
taught several terms. Before the close of the Civil War he enlisted as a ship
carpenter, but saw no action. Three of his brothers met death on the
battlefield. His first wife was Emma Handrick and he married, second, Mrs.
Sallie M. Sherwood. He was one of the first official court stenographers in the
county, taking up the study of “phronography,” as it was then called, in 1851.
He took up the study of Civil Engineering and as he was a competent mathematician
his reputation for care and accuracy in surveying and mapping was soon well
established. In recent years he took a special course in mechanical drawing to
more fully equip himself for this class of work. In 1902 he started the work,
during leisure moments, of writing the New Testament in shorthand, concluding
the task in 1907. Thus closes the earthly record of a man who so performed his
day of work that when the Master called him from his labor, he responded
unabashed and confident.
In 1877, Lathrop wrote and published an eight page poem entitled Light and Darkness.
We know of only one other interested person in Montrose, and then only by their initials. A J.L.F. of Montrose submitted a poem to Zion’s Watch Tower which saw publication in October 1879 issue:
Watchman, on the lonely tower,
‘Mid the desert’s arid sands,
Tell us of the dawning hour,
Tell us of the moving bands.
Seek they now the shelt’ring palm,
Where the cooling springs await?
Cheered, refreshed, now press they on,
Toward the destined City’s gates?
When the fierce simoon is near;
Watchman! give the warning cry;
Raise soul-stirring notes of cheer,
As the journey’s end draws nigh!
J. L. F. — Montrose, Pa
Russell was unable to speak at Montrose, and we do not know of Lathrop’s interest endured.
Alexander B. McCrea hosted Russell’s visit to Berwick, Pennsylvania. He was a physician and member of the Columbia County Medical Society. His hobby was ornithology, and we find some letters from him to bird magazines. In March 1872, he was one of the organizers of Knapp Lodge – Free and Accepted Masons. McCrea was born in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, about 1838. The key fragment of miscellaneous biographical notices we’ve uncovered is that he graduated from Long Island Medical College
1865. This tells us he was a contemporary and classmate of C. W.
Buvinger, and we connect him to Russell and Storrs by this otherwise ephemeral
His death notice in JAMA noted Civil War service. He died April 12, 1919, of influenza.
We do not know if McCrae’s interest endured. As noted in volume one of this work, J. H. Thomas, who rode the backs of Age-to-Come and Christadelphian believers preached in Berwick in 1882, writing to The Restitution that “the believers here are tinctured a little with Russellism, which is subversive of the truth as it is in Jesus.” We have no additional information.
Russell’s last stop was at Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. There Samuel M. Bond (1852-1936) hosted his visit. Bond was at one time a telegraph operator. We find him in 1897 advertising his services as a bill poster (broadside poster) and advertising circular distributor. He was for many years a department manager for L. L. Stearn & Son, a department store in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Before moving to Jersey Shore, he was a member of the Odd Fellows’ Lodge in Renovo.
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Bond seems to have been converted to Watch Tower theology by Russell while he was still associated with Barbour. In 1894, Bond wrote to Russell, saying: “I have been with you in this precious faith while you were with the Herald of the Morning, and ever since the first issue of the Tower.” The earliest notice of him we found is in the money received column of the January 1879 Herald of the Morning. We presume he had been a reader for some time, but we really don’t know. Most interest seems to have been in Williamsport, about fifteen miles away.
Lack of documentation outside the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower leaves us with unanswered questions. We don’t know what the effect of Russell’s visit was, except the one instance of his visit to Berwick. We don’t know if any, except Bond, continued their interest. We wish we did, but we don’t.
His mission tour completed, Russell issued a sanguine, somewhat saccharine report:
Many will be glad to learn that my trip, now about ended, has been a very pleasant one. The unpleasant features about it being the briefness of the visit at each place and the farewells as we parted. Many of the dear friends whom we had never met before, seemed, after the two or three days’ visit, to be life-long acquaintances. We recognized in each other the spirit of adoption into the one family, and our membership of the one body of Christ; and we felt ourselves drawn to each other and cemented by “that which every joint supplieth” – love.
The arrangements were carried out as noticed in our last, except at Montrose, Pa., where we were unable to make railway connections. The meetings averaged from four to six hours per day at each place, and we trust, have been profitable to the hearers; tending to strengthen, encourage, and establish them in the present truth. With the exception of the bodily fatigue attendant upon so much traveling and speaking, the month has been a round of pleasure to your Editor, who returns home feeling much encouraged and refreshed, by the contact with so many loving, sympathizing hearts, alive with the Spirit of Christ.
We have seemed to realize more than ever, Jesus’ words: “Ye shall have in this life a hundred fold – houses, lands, mothers, brothers and sisters.” We have a hundred homes open to us if ever we go the same direction again. That the invitations to come again were sincere, was attested by the firm grasp of the hand, the moist eye, and “God bless you,” at parting.
On the whole, the effects of the visit were so satisfactory that I rather feel impressed that it may be Our Father’s will that I go among the dear flock more. We shall wait for His leading, and go as the way seems to open, probably however in other directions.
How dear Brother Paul would have enjoyed such a trip as the one just ending. It would have required more than a year to accomplish the same results in his day. But evil also has new channels and rapidly increases, and if we would be faithful we must take advantage of every circumstance.
Another thought has been suggested to my mind by my becoming personally acquainted with the saints, viz: If it did me good to know them and of their affairs, would it not do all of the readers good, to know of the welfare of each other? I think it would, and propose to furnish a corner of the “watch tower’s” space each month for your correspondence. Let us all know every little while, say every three months, how the Lord prospers you; whether you keep up your meetings with those of like precious faith, etc. Make it brief and pithy; a few lines on a postal card will do. Thus our interest in each other will be enlarged and all will be blessed. Who will start it?
Carefully read, this is a mixed report. He was happy to have met his readers and claimed a mutual recognition as brethren in Christ. But he laced the report with qualifiers. The trip was “so satisfactory” that he saw it as God’s will that he continue to travel and preach. But it was only so “on the whole,” and we are at a loss to explain his statement that he would go where God led, “but probably … in other directions.” Some, perhaps most, appreciated his visit, and they parted with “moist eye.” But not everyone was welcoming: “Evil also has new channels and rapidly increases, and if we would be faithful we must take advantage of every circumstance.” Russell put the best face he could on a trip that addressed divisions and continuing controversy with Herald of the Morning adherents.
Others entered the field, some of whom have been forgotten by historians of the Watch Tower movement. Among these was
J. S. Lawver
John Shellenberger Lawver -Photo here
John Shellenberger Lawver was born in Pennsylvania about 1834 or 1835, immigrating later with his wife, Elizabeth Leckington, to New Oregon, Iowa. He was a druggist in 1860 with considerable wealth. By 1875 they had six living children ranging in age from one month to seventeen. A son, Monroe, died of spinal meningitis in November 1873. From Iowa they immigrated to Illinois, thence to Kansas. In Illinois he was a fruit grower with a net worth of $12,000.00, most of that in land. The Kansas State Census of March 1875 lists him as a merchant, apparently a wholesale grocer. The post Civil War financial crisis took its toll on the Lawvers as did the great grasshopper plague. Their net worth had declined to about thirteen hundred dollars divided between real estate ($300) and personal property ($1000). His apples were displayed at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 as part of the U. S. Department of Agriculture exhibit. While it is fun to speculate that he met Russell during the Centennial, there is no proof that he did. By 1880 the Lawvers were in Burlington Junction, Missouri. Census returns list him as a grocer.
The bare census records do not tell the full story. Lawver was prominent in the small Mid-Western communities where he lived. He was, even in bad times, wealthier than most. With several others, Lawver founded The Howard County, Iowa, Sentinel in February 1858. The paper was short-lived, a fire destroying it sometime in 1859. In 1863, he was Secretary of the small Masonic Lodge in New Oregon, Illinois, and he served as an officer in the Union County, Illinois, Mechanical and Agricultural Society in 1870. The next year he was elected president. He became a fruit grower and wholesaler while in Illinois, and a letter from him about a caterpillar infestation and its reply found its way into The Prairie Farmer of
May 16, 1864. That same year he expanded his
production to include strawberries and tomatoes. A short notice in The
Country Gentleman said: “J. S. Lawver had six acres of Strawberry plants
sold about $1,000 worth of strawberries. He bought 60 old sash for $60, worked
hard all day and got up nights when snow was on the ground and replenished his
hot bed fires. He was his own gardener and this was his first fear at the
business. From two acres of land he sold $700 worth tomatoes.”
In February 1865 he and others incorporated the Illinois State Insurance
J. S. Lawver first comes to our notice in the in The Restitution of
February 3, 1875, where he is noted as sending two
dollars, apparently for a subscription. This seems to mark his introduction to
Age-to-Come theology. He shows up next in the April 1876 issue of Bible
Examiner. He requested information and books from Storrs who noted them as
Later that same year, Lawver wrote a letter to Hiram Vaughn Reed, editor of The Restitution advocating views of Probation doctrine that were identical to those held by Storrs. While the issue containing that letter and Reed’s reply appear to have been lost, most of the story is told in a subsequent issue. Reed rejected what he saw as second-probation. Full Chance doctrine, a better name for Storrs’ and Russell’s teaching on the matter was a controversial matter among Age-to-Come believers and Second Adventists. Most Second Adventists were persuaded that the doctrine was false, but many Age-to-Come adherents considered it truth or were uncertain enough to believe it might be true.
Frank Burr as he looked about 1855. - photo here
Reed sent his reply to Frank Burr, editor of the Advent Christian Times who published it but with comments. Burr, a long-faced unpleasant man, was antagonistic to Age-to-Come belief. His antagonism was one of the driving forces behind a growing animosity between the two sects. Isaac Wellcome connected a period of financial decline and disunity among Second Adventists, particularly Advent Christians, to Burr’s editorship, though he was too tactful to name him as one of the causes: “There are causes which have been for some time changing the condition of this Association, preventing its prosperity and working disunion; the Association is greatly embarrassed financially, and now unable to do much work. The primary causes of these evils are not yet sufficiently investigated and developed to record in history. We pray the Lord may correct the evils and give prosperity to the work of publishing the glorious message of the soon coming Christ, to deliver his groaning church.” The split between time-ists and the rest of the Advent Christian Association is obvious and detailed in Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. Overlook by most historians of this era is the belligerence of Burr and others toward Age-to-Come adherents, some of whom function from within the Association.
His comments as appended to Reed’s article were unkind and, as usual with him, not scripturally based:
He was preaching Storrs’ broad salvation views at least from 1877, meeting, as Russell would later, accusations of Universalism. When a clergyman interrupted one of his evangelical meetings suggesting that his message sounded “very much like Universalism,” he shot back:
Let me ask you a candid, honest, brotherly question: Would you not prefer that Universalism should e true at least, so far as yourself is concerned? He replied, that he “should.” I then said, “Very well: What right have you, then, to desire that which it should not be true for the great mass of our brother men who have not had the opportunities you and I have had? Who gave you such authority? … Oh for more of the love of God to be shed abroad in our hearts; love that takes all selfishness out of us and gives us a kind, loving sympathetic heart; one that does not merely care for self, but a love that cannot make us happy unless our neighbors can be happy too.”
The “fair chance” doctrine promulgated by Storrs, Lawver and others was not Universalism. It wasn’t even second-probationism as usually understood, but it was a far broader view of salvation than predestination and Hell-fire doctrine allowed. That it wasn’t readily accepted as scriptural and loving depressed Lawver. He wasn’t alone. An Elder John H. May wrote to Storrs that an Adventist preacher had banned him from preaching in that church. The belief that many would be saved in the resurrection was characterized as Universalism, “devil’s doctrine,” and infidelity. Those who believed it were characterized as denominational traitors. This experience would transfer to Watch Tower adherents when they became the doctrine’s principal advocates.
Persistence in the faith was difficult. Lawver touched on this in a letter to Storrs written in early 1878:
I never found it so hard, as I find it now: that is, the nearer we approach the “narrow way,” the harder it is to keep in it. If we get drowsy, some one is ever ready to lay a stumbling block in the way, or to pull us out of the way. It requires eternal vigilance. The loss of friends, and making new enemies, on account of our “peculiar” way, constantly grinds our sensitive natures. But I still feel that I have the evidence that to become nothing in standing for the glorious character, and vindicating the Government of God, is worth more than all the friends of earth and its wealth.
By 1879 he was recognized by The Restitution as a preaching Elder. Lawver, who was a wholesale green grocer, partnered with John C. Foore, a school teacher and like Lawver a resident of Kansas. Both of them were partisans of Storrs, handing out copies of Bible Examiner rather than other Age-to-Come literature. A lengthy letter from him to Storrs reveals that he preached the same message as Storrs.
Late in 1879, Lawver engaged with “a public lecturer” in a debate. The topic was the nature and value of Christianity, and the first proposition was, “resolved, that Christianity had done more harm than good.” Lawver appears to have been an adept debater:
After the affirmative had opened with a triad against the so-called Christianity, I called for a definition of Christianity. My opponent agreed with me that Christianity proper was the doctrine put forth by the Christ, whether human or divine. … What were this Christ’s doctrines? I opened the Divine record and showed what Christ and his apostles taught. Then I asked the speaker and the audience, whether those doctrines practiced could do harm? All agreed that those doctrines would make the world better. Then, said I, the debate is closed. If those doctrines promulgated by Christ and his apostles could do no harm, then they never did do any harm. Then the opposition tried to force the teaching and acts of the so-called churches upon me. No sir, said I, I am not here defending churchianity, but Christianity.
Though it is tempting, one should not read too much into their message as we know it. In December 1880, Foore was in Golden City [state], preaching on subjects that included “Plan of the Ages” and “Three Worlds or the Restitution of All Things.” He invited Lawver to come assist him. While echoing Watch Tower doctrine, these were common Age-to-Come themes, and we cannot take his preaching on them as evidence of sympathy. But other evidence is forthcoming. In early 1881 G. M. Myers, who himself had considerable interest in Watch Tower teachings, wrote a long article to support the view that the Communion Meal took place on Nisan 13th instead of the 14th. Myers wrote to refute an article published in the April 1881 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. Entitled “READ THIS,” Myers’ article appeared in the
11, 1881, issue of The Restitution. He lumped Russell and
Foore together as doctrinal partners. Foore and Russell picked differing days
for the Memorial Observance. Without discussing details best left for someone
who argues theology, we are left with Myers’ someone snide question: “Brother
Foore, why this discrepancy between you and Brother Russell? Have you different
calendars?” This still leaves us uncertain as to the degree of sympathy between
Russell and Foore. Probably they agreed most closely over Restitution doctrine,
both of them accepting the ideas found in Storrs’ [title]. He gently poked S.
A. Chaplin, The Restitution’s editor, over his differences with the
paper writing that he still got the paper “and like it very much; but sould
like it much better if it could be opened for the advanced views – such as the
blessing of all nations and allk indreds in the age to come.” In short, he
wanted The Restitution to open its pages to Storrs’ view of a larger
salvation in the age to come.
Lawver, as did many of the evangelists loosely connected to The Watch Tower, loved debates, believing that they countered poor theology and infidelity. Sometime in late September or early October 1879, he debated “a public lecturer upon the proposition, ‘Resolved, that Christianity had done more harm than good.’”
J. S. Lawver’s preaching tour [date] was announced in Zion’s Watch Tower, and we can suppose sympathy to the Watch Tower message. Calling him “Brother Lawver,” Russell noted his evangelical tour planned for mid-1882: “Bro. Lawver of Missouri starts about July first, for a trip through Kansas and Texas. Letters, requests for preaching, may be addressed to this office.” Russell included him with other Watch Tower evangelists such as Keith and Sunderlin. Interestingly, his trip is reported in The Restitution as well. Some overlap, sometimes a considerable overlap, in teaching and evangelism between Watch Tower and Restitution evangelists continued into the 1890s.
As did many of the earliest Watch Tower adherents, Lawver read and circulated material published by others. In December 1880 we find him recommending a pamphlet for sale through The Restitution entitled Christ’s Kingdom: Where is it? What is it? As of this writing, we have not been able to secure a copy. He also encouraged everyone to get subscriptions to The Restitution.
Lawver drops out of sight by early 1883. A George Kedwell of Arkansas wrote to The Restitution pleading for help and asking “where is Brother Lawver?” An answer was not forthcoming. He appears to have died.