Recently accessed on this blog has been this old article written back in 2011. It is nice when things from way back still get read on occasion. However, the article in question was actually abridged from a longer article on the now defunct Blog 2, and omitted all the references. So the original from Blog 2 is reprinted here. The subject matter has of course now been covered in some detail in volume 1 of Separate Identity.
Illustrated above are George Stetson’s meetings at Quincy Hall, Allegheny, as reported in The Advent Christian Times on November 11, 1873, page 112, and George Clowes’ meetings at the same location as reported in The Restitution (Age to Come/One Faith) on November 5, 1874, page 3.
As previously established on this blog, the Allegheny meetings of the early 1870s had an eclectic mix. In the early days Advent Christians and Age to Come believers would often meet together. They were united on their keen interest in the return of Christ and conditional immortality, while generally divided over such subjects as the destiny of natural Israel, how many would benefit from future probation through the resurrection, which key events yet to happen were timed for the start or the end of the millennium, and the advisability (or otherwise) of date setting.
As long as everyone remains tolerant and unofficial and generally disorganised the situation could continue. But while Age to Come believers of the 1870s were independent groups who were generally averse to organization, the Second Adventists were increasingly anxious for recognition as an established religion. This required an official statement of belief covering not just vague generalities but specifics. As George Storrs would put it, writing in Bible Examiner for June 1876, page 263, about his distaste for Advent Conferences, (quote) I have seen this process of organizing conferences, especially, with deep sorrow. Next come “Resolutions”, theory of course, at first; but presently dictatorial, next penal, excluding everyone from their body who presumes to preach and teach what the majority of their body do not wish to have preached among them (end of quote).
The logical outcome from this was described in Bible Examiner (hereafter abbreviated to BE) for October 1877, page 52, where Elder S W Bishop quotes from a resolution passed at the last session of The Advent Christian Association, to the effect that (quote) appointments to preach shall not be passed in their organ, The World’s Crisis, for anyone who believes...the following doctrines...viz...age to come (end quote). Bishop relates tales of those preaching future probation being forced out of churches, and generously peppers his description of the Advent Christian Church with expressions like “unmitigated bigotry” and “daughters of Rome”.
In spite of the drift from fellowship to disfellowship, some individuals still managed to straddle the divide through the 1870s. George Stetson was a case in point. Ordained by the Advent Christian Church they claimed him as one of their own, and published his obituary in The World’s Crisis. Stetson wrote many articles for the Crisis and some of his preaching activities are in its pages. But in the last few years of his life he probably wrote more articles for The Restitution, and his meetings in Edinboro were regularly announced there.
As noted above, Stetson’s 1873 meetings at Quincy Hall in Allegheny were billed as Advent Christian. The local man, George Clowes, had also been claimed as Advent Christian (see for example Jonas Wendell’s letter in The World’s Crisis for December 27, 1871 where Clowes, recently expelled from the Methodists, was appointed as undershepherd of the (Advent) church in Pittsburgh. But as also noted above, by 1874, Clowes’ ministry at Quincy Hall was now claimed as One Faith, Age to Come.
So which was it to be? Advent Christian or Age to Come?
While the group associated with the Russell family no doubt retained its independence, allowing the majority to link up with Nelson Barbour later, if you had to attach a label, Age to Come believers in future probation (rather than Advent Christian) would be it.
This article will present three lines of evidence to establish this. First, the way their meetings were advertised in the religious press, and then two key visitors whose preaching was accepted by the group.
The first point we have already covered. The November 1874 meetings where Elder Clowes preached were advertised in the Restitution Church Directory as Age to Come. As we will see later, the meetings Clowes attended were also attended by Joseph Lytel Russell, William H Conley, and Charles Taze Russell (hereafter abbreviated to CTR). When Clowes died in 1889 Zion’s Watch Tower published an obituary for him in the March issue (reprints 1110). In response to a tribute from Joseph Lytel, CTR wrote:
On Jan’y 25th our dear Brother Clowes, with whom some of our readers were acquainted, having heard him preach the word of truth at various points near Pittsburgh, passed away
full of triumphant faith and glorious hope. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from hencefotih. Yea, saith the spirit, they shall rest from their labors, but their works follow with them.”
Second and third, we have two known visitors to the group.
The first was George Storrs himself, who spent two Sundays with them in May 1874 and wrote quite a detailed account of his experiences. Before we try and pigeon-hole Storrs’ theology, it would be useful to outline what happened both before, during and after his visit to Pittsburgh.
Shortly after his magazine became a monthly again, Storrs offered his services. As outlined in his March 1874 editorial on page 162, Storrs offered to preach on the subject of Vindication of the Divine Character and Government to any group who would welcome him and offer a convenient Hall. The next issue, April 1874, page 224, noted that C T Russell and Son had been in touch, as had George Stetson in Edinboro. Another regular Pittsburgh correspondent was C W Buvinger, M.D. (for example, see BE March 1874, page 192 and February 1877, page 158). Whoever gave the invitation, it was given promptly and Storrs responded promptly. In the May 1874 BE, page 226, Storrs announced that he would be in Pittsburgh on the first and second Sundays of that month to speak on The Divine Character and Government, details of venue to be announced in the local press.
In the June 1874 BE, page 259, Storrs’ editorial gives a detailed review of his trip to Pittsburgh over the first two Sundays of May. Storrs (quote) found there a small but noble band of friends who upheld with the full hearts the truths advocated by himself. Among them is a preacher who was formerly of the Methodists, but is now firmly settled in the character of the Divine Government as set forth in this periodical (end quote). The preacher in question would appear to be Elder George D Clowes.
Storrs reproduced a newspaper review from The Pittsburgh Leader on his talk at the Library Hall. It mentioned a large audience, although a few left shortly after he began speaking. In his talk Storrs refers to “the ages to come” (rather than “age to come”) and stresses that (quote) all men have will have an opportunity, if not in this life, in another one...Some may call me Universalist. I am in one sense; I believe that a universal opportunity will be accorded to every son and daughter of Adam (end of quote).
Storrs ended his review by thanking the friends in Pittsburgh for their generous support sustaining him and sending him on his way.
Storrs’ visit had an immediate impact. In the same June 1874 issue of BE on page 288, under the heading Parcels Sent up to May 25 are several well-known names: Wm H Conley (2 parcels), G D Clowes Snr. and J L Russell and Son (by Express). Sandwiched between the names of Clowes and Russell in the list is a B F Land. It is only conjecture on this writer’s part, but CTR’s sister Margaret, who was about twenty years old at this time, was to marry a Benjamin Land. They had their first child c. 1876. One wonders when and where they met.
Missing of course from this list of eager recipients of Storrs’ materials is CTR – other than the letterhead of J L Russell and Son. However, the very next issue of BE for July 1874, page 320, under Letters Received up to June 25, lists C T Russell.
So key characters were all in place when Storrs’ visited in May 1874 and preached about the Ages to Come, and when the Restitution advertised Allegheny meetings conducted by Clowes as One Faith in November 1874.
In the December 1874 BE, page 66, a belated letter from Joseph Lytel Russell to Storrs was published about the May meeting, apologising for the delay and expressing Joseph’s appreciation for it. Storrs’ responded by saying (quote) Brother Russell is one of our elder brethren, with whom I formed a most agreeable acquaintance while in Pittsburgh last May, and I think of him only to love and respect him (end of quote).
This suggests that Storrs and Joseph Lytel only met in the flesh for the first time at those meetings in May 1874. And there is no mention of CTR in the correspondence, or in Storrs’ review of his visit back in the June BE. However, assuming CTR was actually there and not away on business in early May, Storrs would naturally relate more to those nearer his own age.
So George Storrs was a welcomed speaker at Pittsburgh, with whom some at least continued in warm fellowship afterwards.
So, returning to our main point, what does this tell us about the leaning of the group he visited?
Was Storrs Age to Come or Advent Christian?
Storrs would probably have denied that he was either. However, his sympathies certainly lay in one direction.
Storrs was fiercely independent, and had left religious groups more than once already on matters of principle. One of the founders of the Life and Advent Union in 1863, he left that body and restarted Bible Examiner in 1871, after accepting future probation with an inclusiveness that prompted others to accuse him of being universalist. As noted in the review of Storrs’ speech at Pittsburgh, his standard retort would be that he did not believe in universal salvation, but rather universal opportunity.
Future probation had been a hot potato for both Age to Come believers and Adventists, with widely differing views within each group. But in the 1870s the Restitution newspaper at least allowed some debate on what friend and foe would variously label as the One Chance, Second Chance, Better Chance, Fair Chance choice of scenario in God’s Divine Plan.
Storrs wrote a number of articles for the Restitution on this subject – for examples, see December 9, 1874 (Christ Gave Himself a Ransom for All), December 23, 1874 (Justice and Love) and August 24, 1875 (There is a Flaw). These were part of an ongoing debate, where some readers accepted the general outline of Storrs’ views. For example, see the letter from John Foore, published in the Restitution for October 3, 1877, where Foore writes (quote ) I still get The Restitution, and like it very much; but should like it much better if it could be opened for the advanced views such as the blessing of all nations and all kindreds in the age to come (end quote). No doubt Foore, and others of like mind, would slip this “advanced view” into their sermons.
Storrs’ journal quoted approvingly from The Restitution on a number of occasions (for example see Nov 1874, page 46, August 1877, page 238, March 1878, page 167 – a gentle critique of CTR’s Object and Manner, and August 1878, page 327.
Both BE and The Restitution related the preaching activities of people like the already mentioned John Foore and his sometime companion John S Lawver. (the latter was later mentioned in ZWT July 1882, reprints page 367). When a begging letter was sent to “Dear Brethren of the Abrahamic Faith” (April 1874, page 194) Storrs printed it, and sent the writer a parcel. Even when disagreeing with the Restitution he still addressed them as “dear fellow-laborers” and beseeched them to give greater weight to his views (BE January 1876, page 103).
So Age to Come groups would generally feel kindly towards Storrs. When illness took hold in 1879, the Restitution published news about Storrs’ condition quite regularly expressing a genuine concern. (see for example Restitution for June 11, July 30, and November 5, 1879). When he died he was described as “late lamented” (March 10, 1880) and “highly venerated” (April 7, 1880) in its pages.
So it would be logical for an independent Age to Come group like the one in Pittsburgh to welcome Storrs as a speaker.
No such rapport can be found between Storrs and the Advent Christian Church throughout the 1870s. One can look in vain for kind words about them in BE.
A few comments directly from Storrs himself about the Advent Christian Church and its organs like The World’s Crisis: (quote) Poor old Rome has some very foolish children...I have nothing but pity for such ...out of their own mouths they are condemned (March 1875) – the Lord only can restore a diseased mind (March 1876) – the synagogue of Adventists with the spirit of the ancient Pharasees (December 1876) – the same spirit crucified the Lord Jesus (January 1877) – God dishonouring theories (October 1877) – perversions of the word of God (March 1878) – I leave them with their own master (July 1878) and on an article in The World’s Crisis - very close to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (October 1877) (end of quotes).
Some of Storrs’ correspondents were almost apoplectic when mentioning the Advent Christian Church, and their comments were printed in BE unchallenged. In addition to Elder Bishop’s “unmitigated bigotry” and “daughters of Rome” salvos (noted above) we have such epithets as – covenant breakers (June 1874) – appalling doctrine (July 1875) – most sectarian body...ever found (April 1876) – bigoted and proscriptive...they sustain wicked and unscrupulous people (May 1876) – (making others) subject to the most inveterate malice and hatred (April 1876) – as bigoted and sectarian as any other “ists” (September 1876)
Correspondents sent in material on the assumption that Storrs did not receive The World’s Crisis (for example see March 1878 BE, page 173), and Storrs himself gave a succinct response to one correspondent in September 1874 BE, page 380: I never see the A(dvent) C(Christian) Times!
In a quieter moment, Storrs summed up his views of both Adventists and Age to Come believers in an article published in July 1876 BE, page 298, entitled Adventist View in Error on the End of Probation. He stated (quote) these are painful dilemmas for humane and conscientious Adventists...it makes them secretly hope...that the Age to Come advocates are right (end quote). Then, writing about the Age to Come believer (quote) as he believes in the restoration of Israel and the conversion of them and the Gentile nations, and allows both salvation and probation for such beyond the second advent, he does not burn up the promises of God before they can be fulfilled, like the Adventist (end of quote).
Reading all the above, I think we can safely assume that, had the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group been staunch Advent Christian, there is no way George Storrs would have been on their guest list!
So we have two lines of evidence as to the leanings of the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group in 1874-75 – first, how they were advertised in the religious press and second – a point we have labored – how a maverick like Storrs was welcomed.
The third line of evidence is another visitor they had – this time in 1875. And here we come to the interesting case of Elder E Owen.
The November 1875 BE contains a trove of familiar names. Under Letters Received on page 64, Storrs notes two from CTR and one from W H Conley. But a little earlier in this issue Storrs published the contents of two other letters, one from Elder G D Clowes of Pittsburgh on page 61 and one from J L Russell of Pittsburgh on page 62.
Both letters expressed support for Storrs’ labours and showed clearly that Clowes and Joseph Lytel were still attending the same meetings and remained in tune with Storrs’ theology. They also give a clue as to the continuing character of those meetings. Clowes (still addressed as Elder Clowes) writes “Brother Owen is labouring with us”. Joseph Lytel gives a little more detail: “Brother E Owens (sic) of Portsmouth N.H. has been with us on a visit. We were very much pleased with him. I think he is truly a servant of the Lord’s, sent to preach the gospel.”
Elder E Owen (like George Clowes before him) had been claimed as Advent Christian a few years before. He is listed in the World’s Crisis’ speaking lists for November and December 1871, including his home city of Portsmouth, N.H. (The same listing has a certain Nelson Barbour preaching in Wakefield, Mass. about the second coming due to occur in 1873). Owen also had a poem published in the Crisis for January 14, 1874 entitled “We Want a Pastor”. But by 1875, if not before, he appears to have come to a parting of the ways.
Storrs published two of his poems in BE in February and December 1875 as well as several letters. The key one was in the issue for April 1874 page 216, where, to use a modern expression, Owen has a bit of a rant.
(quote) When so called “men of God” advise congregations to exclude from their houses, and churches, all who believe in the “age to come”, (as was reverently done in this place), I feel to say, God have mercy upon such leaders of the people: for if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. I am fully satisfied the Advent people are growing more and more contracted in sentiment, more and more adverse to investigation; and I am fully aware that spiritual death and declension is inevitable. May God preserve me and as many as can be preserved from imbibing so unfruitful a frame of mind. (end of quote)
Elder Owen had strong feelings over the increasing gulf between Adventists and Age to Come believers and how he had personally fared in the controversy. Storrs was more than happy to print these views; as shown by his comments above, they obviously mirrored his own.
The next year, Owen wrote again in similar vein. The situation as he saw it had not improved. The August 1875 BE on page 330 contains another polemic from him: (quote) The war wages fiercely. Misrepresentation, legislation, disfellowship and kindred arguments are brought vigorously to bear...In our State the spirit of intolerance in rampant, some men refusing to labor with those who entertain the faith of “Ages to Come”. Poor men...It requires strong decision and moral courage to face the tide (end of quote). In Storrs’ response, he writes: (quote) if those are the best (arguments) they can furnish their triumph will be short (end of quote).
On the issue of Advent Christians and Age to Come believers, Owen clearly eschewed any woolly ecumenical feelings and nailed his colors firmly to the wall. In this he had Storrs’ public support. So when George Clowes and Joseph Lytel welcomed Owen with open arms in late 1875 and spoke appreciatively of his ministry, it is obvious which side of the mounting divide they continued to support.
So while the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group connected with Joseph Lytel Russell, George D Clowes, William H Conley and CTR may have been independent, its natural home was in the Age to Come family.
And then events took an unexpected turn. Charles Taze Russell met Nelson Barbour.