Tuesday, February 16, 2016

W. E. Richards - as it now stands

            W. E. Richards was born in Illinois in March 16, 1861, and with his family moved to Ohio sometime before 1870. As a youth he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. By the time he appeared in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower, he was married with children. Writing to Russell in February 1892, he recalled his youthful interest in the Bible and his desire to preach: “From a child I have read the Scriptures, and all other books that I thought or hoped would make plain to my understanding the truth, as I was hungry to know and anxious to teach it.”[1] By the mid-1880s he was “quite active in the M. E. (Methodist Episcopal) church at Akron, Ohio.” His “great ambition was to become a Methodist minister.”
To pay for his education he sold his home and bought a store. Someone advised him that a store could be sold for cash more quickly than a house could, but the advice was poor, and he lost all he had. “Just as I seemed to be defeated,” he later recalled, “a man came to the store room and called my attention to a book, saying ‘it will unfold to you the deep things of God.’ He glanced at it, “and saw that it referred to earth’s dark night of sin to terminate in the morning of joy.”
            He described the Watch Tower evangelists as “some old gentleman, with a serene countenance.” Richards said that “he had learned that I was quite a Bible student, and that he had a book that would unfold some of the deep things taught in the Scriptures.” The Watch Tower evangelist seems to have handed Richards a folder advertising The Plan of the Ages. Two of those differing in content and format exist, but which he saw is irrelevant. He was intrigued and wanted to know more:

By his tactfulness he got my attention quickly, and glancing over the outline of its contents, and noting its purpose … I became very anxious to learn what it meant and began the study carefully and prayerfully. As I learned from it, I began to tell others and to loan the books to others who professed to be sanctified … .

I tried to persuade them to get acquainted with the message, but my books were returned unread. One said he would like to burn my books and decided I was beside myself. [ie: insane] I usually replied by asking whether I should prefer the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, or the teachings of men who could not prove what they taught from the Scriptures, and asked them why pope and preachers ignored what was taught by Christ … and teach that we did not die, in accord with Satan’s lie of Gen. 3:4, and asked them what Christ meant when he said: “marvel not at this, for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” …. [2]

The date of his initial interest is uncertain, though it seems to have been before his marriage in 1887. Though John B. Adamson was working in Ohio in this era and the description matches his age, we do not know who the serene gentleman was. Other aged believers worked through the American Midwest. We’re left with guesswork. Richards purchased the book, and it altered his belief system. He shared his newly found beliefs. The result was disappointing:

Seeing more real gospel or glad tidings in a brief glance and all in accord with a God of love, and in accord with reason and by examining the Scriptures to see if these things were so, ... [I] found it all in accord and began to tell others about it. My own father was one of the first, and he said, ‘Be careful my boy and do not run the risk of losing your never-dying soul. I also delivered the message to fellow members of the M. E. [Methodist Episcopal] Church, but they were afraid of it; they were taught fear of life in fire.[3]

            Richards wanted to meet Russell and traveled from Ohio to Allegheny City to do so. He “called at the then small office and study room and met a comparatively young man with real black beard and a sublime face, reminding me of the face of pictures of our Lord Jesus Christ, and said to myself and other friends, that I saw the most Christ-like face I ever looked at, and I have been endeavoring to live in accord and teach such a wonderful Gospel ever since.”[4]
            While sharing the Watch Tower message with fellow Methodists and meeting rejection for it, he remained within the Methodist Church, reluctant to sever pleasant associations. He finally left Methodism in 1892, sealing with a letter what had been the case for several years. He explained to Russell:

After having been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church for about twenty years, I have to-day sent to the pastor a letter of withdrawal. I have hesitated long to take the step, as it is a coming out from pleasant associations, and fellowship with many who are apparently perfectly honest in their belief; but it is also a coming out of Babylon or confusion. My prayer has been, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do;” and now, with an honest desire to do God's will, and to walk in the footsteps of our Lord and Master, I have taken the step. ...

I preach the truth wherever opportunity affords; and if circumstances would permit, I would gladly go out into all the world and preach the gospel to all having hearing ears; but it is not my privilege so to do. Occasionally I have the opportunity to teach it to individuals.

I ask that you will remember me at the throne of grace, that I may be led by the spirit of Christ into all truth, that I may be enabled, by his grace, to walk worthy of the gospel wherein we are called, that my will may be fully submitted to God's will and that I may soon be buried with him in baptism; and, being filled with the spirit of Christ, that I may be permitted to go forth bearing the precious seed (truths) of the Lord.[5]

            Richards remained an active evangelist, working mostly locally in Pennsylvania and Ohio through 1917. We know little about him after that. He spent his last years as a farmer, dying June 17, 1932.

[1]               “Out of Darkness into his Marvelous Light,” Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1, 1893, page 78.
[2]               Voices of the People: What our Readers Say, The St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise, November 20, 1917.
[3]               Letter from Richards to editor of St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise, March 6, 1917.
[4]               Letter from Richards to editor of St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise, March 6, 1917.
[5]               Letter from Richards to Russell, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1, 1893, page 78.

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