John Bartlet Adamson
Adamson (1837-1904) was a businessman. There is some confusion as to his occupation, but Russell described him as having “a profitable and increasing business paying about $1,500 a year as well as other things.” One presumes Russell meant he had other sources of income. How much beyond that he had in “other things” is impossible to calculate. While fifteen hundred dollars is a paltry sum today, it was a large income in 1881. Later in life he said that he had “always been a church worker of an independent sort” and that he “always took a great interest in religious matters.”
He was introduced to the Watch Tower message sometime in 1881, while staying at the YMCA in Columbus, Ohio. He found a copy of Zion’s Watch Tower and “was attracted at once, finding in it so much Gospel (good news) and so much better than I had.” He traveled to Pittsburgh, searching for the Watch Tower office. He asked for it “among various religious newspapers,” each of which disparaged the paper. Adamson thought that gave it “Scriptural marks of saintship – being ignored, ‘cast out,’ and ‘suffering reproach’ for Christ’s sake.
Russell’s explanations confused him: “I could hardly follow Bro. Russell in his explanations and see at once that there really is a plan of God in the Ages, and that all the Scriptures fall into line and harmonize with it. It was too good.” He left Allegheny unconvinced. “Still pondering these things in my heart,” he wrote, “I went East to attend Dr. Cullis’s training school, and finding it unsuitable for me, I went on to Providence, where I acted with the Y.M.C.A. in a revival; thence to Bridgeport, Conn., where I attended the Mission revival services. From that I purposed to return to Boston again, but there was no opening except toward Pittsburgh.”
We are left wondering if he was confused by Russell’s explanation or if he found it “too good to be true.” Which ever was so, he left Allegheny unconvinced and sought out Charles Cullis in Boston and enrolled in his Faith Training College. Cullis, a graduate of the University of Vermont and a Holiness-oriented Episcopalian, was a homeopathic physician in Boston. He advocated Faith Cures and founded among other agencies the Faith Training College (1876) to advocate his views. Adamson enrolled but terminated his studies, finding the college “unsuitable.” He doesn’t explain if he had a doctrinal difference or if he found he was not an apt scholar.
He was introduced to Watch Tower readers in the same issue as the two men mentioned above, but only by the initials “J.B.A.” A brief letter of greeting from him and some introductory words by Russell form the basis of most of what we know of him. Russell introduced him as a “very dear saint” and “brother in Christ” and explained that Adamson had decided to “give up all that he has of time, reputation and ability … for the Crown of Life.” Adamson’s self-introduction to Watch Tower readers is worth reproducing in full:
Beloved: It is fitting that new recruits should cheer, if nothing else presents that they can do. It is well that overcomers should continue to use the “word of their testimony.” In true life of faith there must be habitual obedience to the revealed will of God. The just shall live by faith. To the one that lives by every word that proceedeth out of they mouth of God, [sic] it should not appear strange that God should present objects of faith one by one, and not all at once; neither should we stumble if our faith meets with higher truths than those first presented. Faith, like muscular organs, is strengthened by use – the whole gymnasium is open to the athlete; he would spurn the gentle and easy exercises of the invalids. But how often we rebel when this principle is used in the acts of faith: It is trying to the man who has arrived at the justified plane to be told about the entire consecration demanded of the “overcomer.” For a week I have been instructed in the things of the Kingdom especially referring to the presence of Christ doing the separating work preparatory to the marriage. And most joyfully do I receive these teachings.
With shame I record that for three days I rejected these truths, almost wishing they were not scriptural and the very truth of God, instead of joyfully welcoming them with grateful heart. Following closely came another trial of faith and measure of my obedience and consecration, when I as one of God’s stewards, was urged to do the work of a steward and deal out these truths exactly in the measure of my ability to proclaim them. This meant for me the preaching service; the proclamation of truths so unwelcome to many up and down the land everywhere and always.
I ask pardon of the blessed Master – Christ Jesus, that I ever hesitated to accept His place in true humility, and the obedience of faith. I bring not a parade of the Christianizing and civilizing elements to elevate and liberalize the world, and thus make it fit for a coming Messiah; but we proclaim: “The times of restitution spoken of by all the holy prophets since the world began” – the glorious manifestation of the sons of God, so near.
Glorious body of Christ, take courage. “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Sprit, that ye strive together with me in prays go God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea (the nominal church), and my service that I have for Jerusalem the Baide [Bride] may be accepted of all the saints.”
This is more than an expression of newly found faith; we see something of his personality in this. He is verbose, as if many words enforce his thoughts. Though he would become an effective colporteur, he was not an effective preacher. He tells us that he once believed it a Christian duty to improve the world, to make it a fit place to which Christ could return. This was a common belief and the belief that stood behind social improvement schemes. We can’t psychoanalyze the dead, at least not successfully. But we come away from his letter wondering about his stability. Angst over new understanding is foreign to the authors’ nature, and we are – perhaps – unsympathetic as a result. We see in this letter an immense pride of self.
Adamson explained that he had “always” been religiously inclined because he had “godly parents,” but “I failed to get as clear an idea of consecration as I wished. I never believed in lukewarm or disobedient Christians, but I had no wise, loving saints to confer with in my early religious experience. Few or none thought of the Bible as the only rule; therefore, I was sometimes cast down and discouraged. I never could join a church, or enter the ministry, though I had tempting offers of the necessary funds. .. Yet, I always worked heartily in all churches, Y.M.C.A., or other revival work.”
We have the benefit of hindsight. We know what outcomes were for Adamson, so we can see elements from his letters Russell and Watch Tower readers could not. Odd, ungrammatical phrasing characterizes some of them. In this one he says he never “believed in lukewarm or disobedient Christians.” He meant that he rejected their behavior, not that he didn’t believe they existed. He wrote as he spoke. He tells us he considered a career in the ministry but found no church satisfactory enough to seek membership. He was a frustrated preacher, and within his Watch Tower ministry often included street preaching, though not always successfully because of the flawed grammar. He confused people, not an uncommon outcome when a speaker makes his audience mentally translate his words. Adamson impresses one as vague. His letters leave an indistinct trail He uses a common vocabulary, but one is occasionally left wondering if he meant exactly the same thing as did everyone else. His description of his first meeting with Russell falls into this category. At first it appears plain and straight forward, but on analysis it becomes imprecise.
He left Boston for Providence, Rhode Island, where he “acted with the Y.M.C.A. in a revival.” Again, his statement lacks specifics. He doesn’t say if he merely handed out tracts or if he picked up litter, or explain in anyway what “acting with” the YMCA meant. From there he made his way to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to attend “the Mission revival services.” He “proposed to return to Boston again, but there was no opening except toward Pittsburgh.” Again, the lack of specifics is maddening. What, exactly, does he mean by the phrase “no opening except toward Pittsburgh”? That he had no more money than a fare to Pittsburgh? That makes no sense because Boston is far closer to Bridgeport than is Pittsburgh. Business took him toward Pittsburgh? Who knows? The man is frustratingly vague. Nevertheless, six months after he’d visited Russell (December 1880 or January 1881) he returned for another conference. In his verbose, confusing way he reported the results of his second conference with Russell:
With shame I record that for three days I rejected these truths, almost wishing they were not scriptural and the very truth of God, instead of joyfully welcoming them with grateful heart. Following closely came another trial of faith and measure of my obedience and consecration, when I, as one of God’s stewards, was urged to do the work of a steward and deal out these truths exactly in the measure of my ability to proclaim them. This meant for me the preaching service; the proclamation of truths so unwelcome to many up and down the land everywhere and always.
I ask pardon from the blessed Master – Christ Jesus, that I ever hesitated to accept His place in true humility, and the obedience of faith. I bring, not a parade of the Christianizing and civilizing elements to elevate and liberalize the world, and thus make it fit for a coming Messiah; but we proclaim: “The times of restitution spoken of by all the holy prophets since the world began”— the glorious manifestation of the sons of God, now so near. Glorious body of Christ, take courage. “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea (the nominal church), and my service that I have for Jerusalem the Bride) may be accepted of all the saints.” Rom. 15:30, 31.
Russell’s account differs in minor detail. Adamson says about six months elapsed between his first meeting with Russell and his second. Russell says it was nearly a year. We have no sure way to harmonize their accounts. Russell was impressed by Adamson’s earnestness, telling Watch Tower readers:
It gives me pleasure to thus introduce to the readers of the watch tower one whom we have recently come to know as a very dear saint – a brother in Christ. We first became acquainted about one year ago and his interest has been growing in the precious truths advocated in the tower. Again visiting this city, we have had very pleasant and profitable interchanges on the all important themes – the presence, the “high calling” and the “narrow way” of entire consecration by which it may be reached.
Our brother has concluded as ... to give all that he has of time, reputation and ability for the Pearl of great price, the “Crown of life,” – immortality and joint-heirship. He leaves a profitable and increasing business ....
As vague as Adamson was as a speaker, he was an adept colporteur and reported success in personal evangelism. He played a significant part in the circulation of Food for Thinking Christians. Russell reported that, “Brother Adamson is now in Illinois and Iowa distributing pamphlets from city to city, and preaching as he goes. An extract from a letter in another column, shows that he is enjoying the work. The Lord give him grace for every time of need – though showing him how great things he must suffer for the truth’s sake.” We do not know what Adamson suffered, but we suppose it was partly financial. He abandoned his business interests and was dependent on the goodwill of his hearers.
In He reported work among Methodists late in [congtinue]
After some weeks of silence, Adamson wrote to Russell, reporting his progress. Detailed reports from Watch Tower evangelists are rare, and, though his letters reflect his personality, they give us clear insight into methods. Adamson traveled from camp meeting to camp meeting, circulating Food for Thinking Christians and meeting sharp opposition:
After several months engaged in distributing and preaching the Gospel, you will doubtless be glad to hear from me again. I have had good opportunities for observing how this Gospel of the grace of God is received by the different classes in and out of the nominal churches. Only those who go forth into the world, with the real Gospel of gladness, can have a full idea of the joy and rejoicing of God's true people, when presented with these truths. And only such can realize how bitter is the opposition of many of the clergy (Scribes) and false religionists (Pharisees) who abound in the churches now, as they did in the Jewish.
I worked in nearly all the large towns of twenty states, being present also at nearly all the leading Camp Meetings, Conferences, and Assemblies of the year: distributing thousands of books, and addressing many people. At Camp Meetings it was impossible to give away books with much discrimination, but after the season for such gatherings ended, I found time and place for seasonable words about our hope, joy, heirship, and the restitution of the world at "the manifestation of the sons of God." I soon began to realize what a blessed work I was engaged in, and the glorious privilege of being a mouthpiece for the Lord.
The true people of God who are really making good their promises of entire consecration of all to the Lord, received me with every sign of gratitude and love, and praise to God for this message of grace and love, expressing surprise that the "Food" had reached them, and gratitude to God for "meat in due season." Limited in time, I devoted it principally to those who seemed to "have an ear to hear" – the truth hungry, passing by those who seemed to think themselves rich and increased in goods and needing nothing; thus following the example of our Forerunner--convinced that now, as then, no man can come into the light except the Father draw him by his Word and Spirit of truth. There is no inducement of a worldly character to lead one of the world-conforming, Babylon people into the narrow way and race for glory. On the contrary, this teaching is most repulsive to the larger portion of the nominal church, and those who deliver them are continually subject to contempt, reproach, and dishonor. Those who for years have been carrying the honors of the world with the name of Christ in self-indulgence, feel outraged by the teaching that glory, honor, and immortality will only be given to those who take up their cross, deny self, and follow their Leader in a life separate from the world.
Most bitter in their opposition are the clergy who doubtless feel their craft endangered--some of whom obtained the books from their people when I was gone and burned them. This was especially true among the sect calling themselves "Second Adventists," strange as it may seem. They greatly fear, that which they cannot gainsay.
I now gladly recur to the effect of the truths we hold, upon the dear sainted people of God who only are the church – yet for the present much mixed up in Babylon except to God's clear vision. These were glad to get out of her, and hailed the message and the result, as a deliverance from sin. Many infidels and worldly people got to hear the message also, and often spoke of God's plan in the ages, as something reasonable, and as demonstrating his Wisdom, Justice, and Love.
Being a willing instrument in God's hand, subject to any use I can be fitted to, I now try a preaching tour, and expect to meet many of the brethren and labor together with them. Again desiring your prayers, I remain your brother and fellow worker in Christ Jesus.
Indiscriminately handing out tracts at camp meetings produced little result. We see that from this letter. Yet, for some years it remained Watch Tower practice to dispense tracts at church doors, most of which went unread. Adamson was more effective in personal conversation. He doesn’t say which of the Second Adventist camp meetings he attended, but knowing does not matter. They were especially opposed to the Watch Tower message. Some would have seen it as a continuation of Barbour’s work, though by 1883, Barbour had moved onto other doctrine. Adventists did not see kinship between Watch Tower adherents and themselves. In his last paragraph, Adamson proposed a ‘preaching tour.’ He was an indifferent, discursive speaker. Apparently he meant to visit other believers, working with them.
In May 1882, Russell reported that “Bro. Adamson is holding some very successful, and we trust profitable meetings in Mercer County, Pa.”
 A Curious Sect, The Wilmington, North Carolina, Semi-Weekly Messenger, January 21, 1898, page 7.
 J. B. Adamson: Letter from Brother Adamson, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1883, pages 1-2. [Not in reprints.]
 Ann Taves: Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, Princeton University Press, 1999, page 227; Randall Herbert Balmer: Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, page 166; See also the article Faith Cure: McClintock and Strong, eds., Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Supplement, Volume 2, 1889, page 372.
 J. B. Adamson: To the Readers of the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1881, page 8.
 J. B. Adamson: Letter from Bro. Adamson, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ February 1883, pages 1-2. [Not in reprints.]
 J. B. Adamson: To the Readers of the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1881, page 8.
 C. T. Russell’s comments on: To the Readers of the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1881, page 8.
 C. T. Russell:
 J. B. Adamson: A Word from Brother Adamson, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, page 4.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1882, page 1.