Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Another brought back from obscurity



Josephus Perry Martin

            J. P. Martin was born near New Lebanon, Ohio, September 29, 1853. When he was a child, his parents moved from place to place trying to make a success of farming. After four weeks of illness, his father died of Typhoid Fever in 1866. His mother returned the family to Ohio. Eventually Martin married, and he and his wife Mollie married and joined the German Baptist Brethren church, sometimes called the Dunkards. When they joined in 1878, the church was on the verge of crisis, but Martin and his wife moved to Ashland, Ohio, and he enrolled in the Brethren college there. His attendance was limited to “two terms.” We believe that by “two terms” he meant two semesters because by 1880 he was home and “farming as usual.”           

Joseph Perry Martin

            The German Brethren were in the midst of a fierce theological battle and splitting into factions. Martin and his wife were drawn into the Progressive, or more liberal branch, and he was elected pastor. He says in his hand-written autobiography: “In 1882 I was elected to the ministry … and began to mix preaching with farming. … In the autumn of 1883 we migrated with our little family from the home of my wife's parents to Hocking County, Ohio, near Logan. Here I served five congregations during the next few months, in the Progressive branch of the Dunkard Church, two in Hocking, one in Fairfield and two in Perry counties. It was an inclement winter, excessive cold and snow in its forepart and excessive rainfall and high waters later in the season and the exposure of it was considerable and my work strenuous.”
            The strain resulted in a collapse. He describes it as a nervous break down, but the symptoms as described in his autobiography suggest physical rather than mental issues. He reduced his religious activity but continued to preach as he could. It was during his illness in 1883 that his beliefs began to shift. His hand-written memoir records his introduction to The Watch Tower:

In this state, broken in body and mind and doubtful of my religious standing, while living at Bremen, a copy of The Watch Tower, an independent, fearless and uncompromising bible exponent, providentially fell into my hands. It was in the home of Augustine Palmer, in Hocking county near Logan, a deacon in the Progressive church, where this unexpected blessing overtook me. This copy was sent to him as a sample, and, as he did not appreciate it, he consented for me to take it home with me. That was the beginning and the end is not yet; for forty-six years I have been a close and constant reader of The Watch Tower.

A Vista of Hope Opens To My Troubled Heart and Mind:

I did not know fully what I was carrying home with me, but what I had already read therein led me to hope that it would be helpful. In fact I later found therein where I could procure a panacea for all my physical, mental and moral distempers, and especially a remedy for my spiritual disquietude and uncertainty.

Gradually I learned through its columns that the long cherished theories of orthodoxy and churchianity -- “Trinity”, “Immortality of The Soul” and “Eternal Torment” tenets -- were not supported by the teaching of the Bible, and were in fact denounced thereby.

A Galaxy of Bible Tenets:

Gradually the following fundamental tenets of the Bible envisioned themselves: “Creation”, “Justice Manifested”, “The Abrahamic Promise”, “The Birth of Jesus”, “The Ransom”, “The Resurrection”, “The Hidden Mystery”, “Our Lord's Return”, “Glorification” and “Restoration”. These enterweave themselves into a loving, wise, just and powerful scheme of human deliverance and reconciliation at the hands of Jehovah God through his Son, our Lord, Christ Jesus, and our Saviour.

An Earnest Contention For More Light - And A Field of Action:
It was while this joyfully and gradually learning these glorious Bible truths, and while as gladly though timidly imparting them to others, both by preaching and by giving out literature, that I was invited by my Dunkard brethren to resign my ministry in the Dunkard Church, because of, what they dubbed it, my heresy.

This I unhesitatingly did, yet with considerable fearfulness and apprehension. I also withdrew from membership with that and all denominations, denouncing them and their creeds as man made and without the authority of God's Word, The Bible. And with all its heart-pains and severances I have never in all these years regretted the step which I then took. Our parting was fraught with many heart-aches and much sorrow on both sides, and but little or no manifestation of bitterness and anger. For this I am thankful, and remember kindly those from whom I parted at that time. This was in June 1887.[1]

Front Page – Martin’s Autobiography

            By his resignation from the progressive Brethren in 1887, Martin had been writing to Russell for some time. Several of his letters were printed in the Watch Tower and bring us deeper into his history.
            The first of his published letters appears in the April 1887 issue of the Watch Tower. He expressed his appreciation for The Plan of the Ages. He was especially impressed with chapter fifteen, The Day of Jehovah:

I am much I am much impressed by what I have just read. Although I have read this chapter previously, yet it came to me under many new and impressive features; hence I conclude that I am but a child in the primary department of the school of Christ; that I have but tasted of the spring-branch, and that the fountain is farther up the mountain side, of which if I desire to drink I must continue to climb.

            He continued to preach, moving briefly to the Reformed church. We do not know with certainty which Reformed church he meant, though we suspect he meant the Reformed Episcopalians. They didn’t tolerate his preaching any more than had the Dunkards:

Well, I am become unpopular to the Reformed sect; they became fearful; so I don't preach for them any more. My own sect begin to mistrust me, but I am not sure what they will do, as I am about the only minister they know of who will preach for them caring nothing as to whether they pay him or not. All that is wrong with me is that I care as little whether my preaching pleases them, as I do whether they give me anything for it. I am not popular and what is worse (to them) I am not trying to be. I do what I can to spread the truth while earning my living by farming.[2]

            We must date his resignation to shortly after this letter was written. And his letter shows us a man determined to preach truth as he saw it despite social consequences. His next letter dated April 25, 1887, was written the day he resigned from the progressive Brethren Church:

To-day I am as free from the trammels of sectarianism as the winds that play about me. I have bid a long, long adieu to the nominal church; I have stepped out of “Babylon;” I am feeding in the valleys of God and on the hill-lands of truth. Oh! how sweet those rich pastures! The flesh-pots of Egypt are not to be compared to the rich viands of promise. Their savor has become a nauseating stench in my nostrils. Let those who cling to the sluggish streams of tradition drink of their foul waters and feed on the garbage they accumulate; but for me, the cool, refreshing waters of truth only can make glad the waste places of my existence. I have separated myself from the church with which I stood identified, and now consider that I am a member of the "body." Perhaps I am not as strong as some, but by the grace of God I am what I am.

I am still preaching in New Lebanon every Sunday night. My preaching is troubling a good many people. They fear it will undermine sectarianism, and their fear is well founded. The truth is slowly spreading, and not infrequently in directions unlooked for. I set no stakes as to what I will do, but go on unpretentiously in the discharge of my duty, little concerning myself as to where it may place me.[3]

            The next printed letter is dated June 18, 1887. He reported what he saw as spiritual advancement, and we find him circulating sample issues of Zion’s Watch Tower:

My z.w. towers samples are about exhausted. I sent many of them by mail, and I am constantly receiving letters from those of the faith and oh! how wonderful! they all speak the same things, having the same mind and judgment. How easy to be of one mind when once we reach the fat place in God's unlimited pasture lands. It matters little how lean the sheep may be on leaving their sectarian enclosures, soon after reaching the rich succulent pastures of Christ's fold they begin to improve. Some of us are having a weekly Bible meeting in which we search the Scriptures to see if these things be true. The Lord is with us and we are getting stronger and stronger.

            He ended the letter with expressions of thanks for freedom from error and the path into enlightenment:  “I cannot refrain from saying that I am so glad I am free; free from those awful shackles of a benighted and misguided mind and conscience. I shall always thank God for your instrumentality in lifting this burden from my tired shoulders, and pointing me to the glorious light.”[4] The last published letter shows him as newly entering the colporteur work, circulating the first volume of Millennial Dawn: “I am pleased to do what I can, be it much or little, feeling that every book I sell is a footprint in the sands of time to guide some discouraged, disheartened fellow-mortal to the fount of truth at no far distant day. I wish I could flood the world with it. I am surprised at myself in this work; it seems that I am particularly adapted to it.” He was off to preach in Miamisburg and a “brother Van Hook” was going to take his “pulpit” while he was gone. Van Hook has eluded identification.
            Martin remained a Watch Tower adherent until his death on June 6, 1932. His autobiography, written in 1930, ends with these words:

This I unhesitatingly did, yet with considerable fearfulness and apprehension. I also withdrew from membership with that and all denominations, denouncing them and their creeds as man made and without the authority of God's Word, The Bible. And with all its heart-pains and severances I have never in all these years regretted the step which I then took. Our parting was fraught with many heart-aches and much sorrow on both sides, and but little or no manifestation of bitterness and anger. For this I am thankful, and remember kindly those from whom I parted at that time. This was in June 1887.

From 1887 to 1898 was an exceedingly trying period to me. To be suddenly severed from all church activities and associations, and to as suddenly step out into unfriendly and strange environments alone, without sympathy, without aid from human sources, as an abandoned heretic, requires more than human aid to sustain one's moral courage to proceed. I repeat, those were indeed trying years, and only the grace of God, the visits of The Watch Tower and the many letters from Charles T. Russell, editor of The Watch Tower, enabled me to humbly traverse them.

And to live to see the time when you can meet and fellowship with thousands of like precious faith in fields where you once stood alone, and to know that your own feeble efforts were a little helpful in causing this change, is worth all the trials of a life time. As my mind reverts and flits hither and thither over the bottom lands and hillwards of the group of states bordering on the Ohio River, I think of many in many places whose hearts have been watered with truth by my feeble efforts. Between us is a mutual friendship of which the world knows naught, and is reward enough for our services if no other awaits us.

This is a patch work quilt -- I like to look at, I like to think of each and every patch in it, and how they were patiently shaped and joined together in a design of brotherhood under the Fatherhood of God. But, much as I like this vision, I must turn from it, and to present and future services, for, apparently, my life work is not yet done, God who guides me, only, knows. Amen.


[1]              J. P. Martin: An Autobiography. Hand-written manuscript dated 1930.
[2]              Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1887, page 2. [Not in Reprints.]
[3]              Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1887, page 2. [Not in Reprints.]
[4]              Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1887, pages 1-2. [Not in Reprints.]

No comments: