Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More from "Out of Babylon" - Unedited and raw

Dissension was not uncommon. It arose on several grounds. Those with similar, but ultimately opposition views attended Watch Tower meetings. Some swayed by Barbour continued to attend Watch Tower meetings because there was nowhere else to go. Paton’s adherents were increasingly small in number, often having no meetings of their own. They attended Watch Tower meetings, using them to spread Paton’s universalist ideas. We discuss it more fully elsewhere, but we note here that beginning at least in 1882, Paton prepared booklets and tracts that went out primarily to Watch Tower readers. The earliest of these known to us was a thirty-two page booklet reprinting chapter four and part of chapter five of the ‘revised’ edition of Day Dawn.[1] As long as the meetings included those with opposition beliefs, opposition literature made its way into the fellowship and colored group discussions.
            Most examples come from a somewhat later period but seem to accurately represent the problem. In Brockport, New York, someone donated a subscription to Paton’s World’s Hope and Russell’s Watch Tower to the Free Library.[2] A letter written to J. H. Paton in 1902, illustrates the situation: “Sister V. … asked me to subscribe for the Hope; and I … have never been sorry. … It has been a blessing to me and much company when alone. Z. W. T.; the Hope, and my Bible are about all I read.”[3]
            Benjamin Ford Weatherwax, a retired Methodist clergyman living in Courtland, New York took up the Watch Tower message in 1901, possibly from earlier preaching by S. O. Blunden, who preached there in 1893.[4] Weatherwax wrote to Russell expressing his faith. A follow up letter was printed in the January 1, 1902, Watch Tower. It told the story of his withdrawal from the Methodist Church:

I have had a big fight and gained a glorious victory. I send you my article prepared for the Conference. I had a hard time to get a hearing, as my name was called before I reached the seat of Conference. Had I been there then I could have had the floor; but after that it was difficult. After pressing the matter they allowed me five minutes to speak and I read rapidly until I reached the sentence, “Thy Kingdom come,” two thirds through, and there the Bishop called me to order. He said I had used up six minutes and I asked for an extension of time but could not get it. (They had enough.) So I asked our own City Editor if he would like to publish it and he consented.

There was a great surprise I assure you, at Syracuse Conference, when I withdrew from it and gave my reasons even partially. I commenced giving out tracts-- until all were gone. When I gave one I said, “Read that carefully, when you are all alone.” I have a good many old friends in the Conference and Church (Nominal), but thanks be to God, I am the Lord's free man. Some have asked me what church I am going to unite with, and my answer is the “Church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven.”[5]

            Benjamin Ford Weatherwax (June 15, 1836 – November 8, 1903) attended Fairfield Seminary, and later Hartwick Academy. Though he farmed for a while, he “he felt a strong call to preach the gospel.” He was admitted to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church becoming an itinerant preacher in New York. He retired in 1885, and returned to farming. He gave up farming in 1892, moving to Courtland, New York.[6] He was convinced by Watch Tower doctrine about 1900 and preached it. He convinced six others, and they formed the Church of the Little Flock in Courtland. By 1903, The Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard gave it a membership of “about ten.”[7] Shortly after he resigned from the Methodist ministry, the editor of The Courtland, New York, Evening Standard published his statement of faith:

                        Courtland, N. Y., October 29, [1901]

To the Editor of The Standard:

Sir – I have been asked to give a reason for the hope that is within the church of the “Little Flock.” First, our organization is of a heavenly origin rather than earthly. We belong to the “Church of the first born whose names are written in heaven.” Our people are scattered all over the earth. They are known by their Lord. …They are held together by love divine … . They are one body and one spirit … .

We hold that the church which God is electing or selecting during this gospel age is promised a spiritual or heavenly reward to be “made partakers of the divine nature,” and to share with Christ the work of blessing the world during the millennium. We understand that the millennial age is for the very purpose of causing “the knowledge of the Lord to fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea,” and see “the true light which lighteth [sic] every man that cometh into the world,” giving all a full opportunity to come in to [sic] harmony with God.

We understand that the Bible teaches both the doctrine of election and the doctrine of free grace – the election of this church during this age and free grace for the world in general in the millennial age and in perfect harmony as shown by the Scriptures. We also under that 6,000 years of earth’s history is past according to Bible chronology and that the seventh thousand is the mellinnium [sic] of Christ’s reign – and that the present time from 1874 to 1914 is the lapping period styled in Scripture the “harvest” of the age, in which the number of the elect church will be completed, and that then the millennial age will be ushered in by a great time of trouble, anarchy, etc., mentioned repeatedly in Scripture which will level society, humble pride and prepare the way for Immanuel’s long promised Kingdome “under the whole heavens.”[8]
            All of this is standard Watch Tower doctrine of the era. As with other former clergy, Weatherwax assumed the leading position in the group. Meeting-time advertisements note him as “Elder,” a common Methodist designation. As did a few other former clergy, he continued to see himself as having special status. Based on his short article for the Cortland paper, editors of nearby journals presented him as the “founder of a new sect.” The Newburgh, New York, Register told its readers that “the Rev. B. F. Weatherwax, formerly of this city, has withdrawn from the Methodist Episcopal conference and has founded a new religious denomination.”[9] By the end of April 1902, they were meeting in the W.C.T.U. Hall. Sunday services were at 10 am, and a meeting for prayer and Bible study was on Wednesday at 7:30 pm.[10]
            Before 1890 either Russell or one of the others most prominent in the Watch Tower ministry would visit newly formed groups. George B. Raymond, a Watch Tower evangelist, visited the Cortland group twice. An announcement in the April 12, 1902, Cortland Standard said he’d address a meeting of the church in Good Templars’ Hall. No subject was given. R. E. Streeter visited The Church of the Little Flock in Cortland in July 1902 for two days. No subject was announced. He was back in December 1902, Speaking Wednesday, December 3rd on the topic “The Coming Kingdom,” and the next evening on “Restitution of All Things.”[11] Raymond returned in early May 1903, addressing the group twice. The Standard printed the congregation’s statement of belief:

There are people who believe the world is just entering the milennial [sic] reign of Christ, and that a wonderful age of progress, both material and spiritual, is about to be ushered in, preceded, however, by ten or fifteen years of intense strife and anarchy. They believe that the earth and the great bulk of humanity, both present and past, will, during the next thousand years, be restored to the perfection which 6,000 years ago was exampled in the Garden of Eden.

They reject the idea of eternal torment, claiming it to be unscriptural; asserting that only those who are guilty of sinning willfully against the fullest light (information) are to be considered incorrigible; these and these only, are to be destroyed in the second death.

They believe that God has for 6,000 years been allowing man to gain a sad experience with sin, and that he will, during the next thousand years, the millennium, restrain sin, that man may see righteousness n all of its beauty, and witness the blessed results of its reign. Having had 6,000 years’ experience with sin and 1,000 years’ experience with righteousness, man will be well prepared to make a wise choice as to which he will serve, and will then be tested by loosing of Satan to deceive those who during this long period shall have failed to become well grounded in godliness, Those being thus deceived will go down into the second death from which there will be no resurrection.[12]

Despite this concise statement of Watch Tower belief, Weatherwax deviated from it that year. He encountered Barbourite doctrine and adopted Barbour’s new chronology. Barbour expected the final last-days acts to occur in 1907. Weatherwax preached that. His obituaries report that the church “members believe the world ends in 1907.” We lack details. We don’t know how he encountered Barbourite doctrine. We do not know why he found it persuasive.[13] Contrary to newspaper claims, most members of the Cortland church retained Watch Tower belief. We think that the congregation retained Weatherwax because though he deviated in doctrine, they had tremendous respect for him. Writing some months after he died, Isaac Edgecomb described him as “a man of great faith.” Edgecomb was a Methodist, and wrote this despite Weatherwax’s defection from that church.[14]
The small congregation continued, placing regular ads in the Cortland paper through 1904. They numbered thirteen in 1906, all of whom traveled to Binghampton, New York, on January 26th to hear Russell speak.[15] Cortland received two visits by traveling Watch Tower Pilgrims in 1908, and persisted at least to 1917. We do not know if the current Witness congregation is an outgrowth of the original group.

      Syracuse, New York, Herald

Randolph Elwood Streeter
George B. Raymond

[1]               Announcements: The World’s Hope¸ July 1884, page 152. The title appears to be Good News for All.
[2]               Annual Report of the Brockport Free Library, The Brockport, New York, Republic, December 1, 1887.
[3]               R.O.L to Paton, The World’s Hope, February 15, 1902, page 47.
[4]               Blunden to Russell as found in the May 1, 1892, Watch Tower, pages 133-134. [Not in Reprints.]
[5]               Interesting Letters from Friends, Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1, 1902, page 15.
[6]               C. E. Fitch: Encyclopedia of Biography of New York: A life Record of Men and Women Whose Sterling Character and Energy and Industry Have Made Them PreĆ«minent in Their Own and Many Other States, Volume 3.
[7]               Drops Dean in Hen Yard, The Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard, November 3, 1903. Founds a New Sect, Ogdensburg, New York, News¸ November 12, 1901.
[8]               B. F. Weatherwax: A Question of Belief, The Courtland, New York, Evening Standard, November 2, 1901. We do not know if the grammar errors are his or the editor’s. 
[9]               Founds a New Sect, The Newburgh, New York, Register, November 7, 1901.
[10]             Church of the Little Flock, Cortland, New York, Evening Standard, April 25, 1902.
[11]             Church of the Little Flock, Cortland, New York, Evening Standard, July 28, 1902.
[12]             Two Meetings, Cortland, New York, Evening Standard, May 9, 1903.
[13]             Drops Dead in Hen Yard, The Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard¸ November 3, 1903; The Syracuse, New York, Journal, November 9, 1903. There are possible explanations as to how Weatherwax encountered Barbourite doctrine. W. Horace Kirk, owner of a blacksmithing business and evangelist preacher, was interested in the Church of the Little Flock. He attended a “convention of the Church of the Little Flock in Binghampton, New York, in May 1904. His business partner was a Hoyt, some of whom were Adventist and Age-to-Come believers. There was through Kirk a connection to Rochester and the Fullers. Fullers were Barbourites. None of this raises to the level of sound proof.
[14]             I. Edgecomb: Some Pillars, The Cortland, New  York Evening Standard, October 14, 1904.
[15]             To Attend Lecture, The Syracuse, New York, Herald¸ January 27, 1906.

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