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The Second Coming of Christ
THE last decade of the 18th century and the first three of the 19th saw development of a distinctive movement to revive conviction in the second advent of Jesus Christ. The seeds of this were sown by Sir Isaac Newton and Joachim Stegman and other Polish Brethren, the influence of whose writings continued long after their death. With somewhat increasing tolerance, libraries and private collections preserved copies of their work and active revival of the position they represented was not infrequent. Some of the writers were "orthodox" theologians within the established church who adopted certain advent and prophetic views and little else. Others were more radical. It is intriguing to trace this stirring of interest in the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, since the seeds sown germinated in many places after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Three early 19th century centres of germination can be recognised. One was in Germany, another in central and western Scotland, and the third on the American frontier.
Over a number of years through use of public platforms and publications various individuals were linked into like-minded groups, but for the first thirty years of the 19th century at least the movement had little formal organisation. But of the strength of conviction of individuals there can be no doubt. One group, however, is of considerable interest, since it bears directly on the subsequent line of development traced in this book. It has been associated by some ecclesiastical historians with the name of Edward Irving; in fact, though prominent in an early phase, his part in the movement was a temporary one and he quickly branched off into
excesses of spiritism for which his name is now chiefly remembered.(1) Another member for a time was Wm. Drummond. He and Irving later had much to do with the organisation of the ill-fated Catholic Apostolic Faith. Strangely, it was not writers who provided a direction for the movement, but a group of liberal- minded Irish and British publishers who for many years financed and supported publications of a millenarian-mortalist flavour, largely by developing the subscription method of sales. Prominent among these was James Nisbet of London, whose descendants after 150 years are still in the publishing business (though not with the same flavour!) and R. T. Tims of Dublin. A typical work is reproduced in this book. The author, James Begg, was a fervent Scots Calvinist until one day in May 1828 he travelled from his home in Paisley all the way to Edinburgh to hear a lecture on the return of the Jews to Palestine. (At this date John Thomas, of whom more later, was writing lectures on obstetrics). Begg returned to Paisley and immediately began an intensive study of the Scriptures; the first edition of the work illustrated appeared less than a year later. It is well reasoned, packed with references and close, cogent argument. Except perhaps, at the end, where he launches into a diatribe against the "mother of harlots", it is free from polemic, and its style is fresh and amazingly similar to later Christadelphian works. Although there is no direct evidence that Christadelphian writers drew directly on works published by Nisbet such as "A Connected View", the present writer finds it hard to believe that there was no connection at all, so close and even identical are the language and the concepts and even the cliches used.
No Premature Anticipations
Typical chapters in A Connected View indicate the purpose and message it offered: "Restoration of Israel to Palestine"; "The Whole Earth Blessed in Israel's Restoration"; "Review of the Promise of the Presence of the Lord"; "First Resurrection and Reign of the Saints"; "The Submission due to Revealed Truth". In refutation of detractors' jibes that believers have always expected the imminent return of their Lord to be "just around the corner", Begg had too
(1) He is indeed chiefly remembered thus, but it would appear that in this case, as often, memory is faulty. Evidence has been presented to indicate that Irving was grossly maligned in historical documentation, particularly that of the Church of Scotland from which he was expelled.
Remarks on Various Authors who Oppose these Doctrines.
Thus saith the Lord, I am Returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst ofJerusatem .... If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnent of this people in these days, should it also be marvellousin mine eyes, saith the Lord of Hosts?" -- Zech. viii. 3, 6.
By JAMES A. BEGG
THIRD EDITION, ENLARGED.
THE PROFITS OF THIS EDITION TO AID THE FUNDS OF THE LONDON PHILO-JUDEAN SOCIETY.
PAISLEY: PUBLISHED BY ALEX. GARDNER:
M. OGLE, W. COLLINS, J. REID, AND G. GALLIE, GLASGOW; W. 0LIPHANT, WAUGH & INNES, W. WHYTE & CO., J. BOYD, AND J. LINDSAY & CO. EDINBURGH; J. ANDERSON, DUMFRIES; BROWN & CO. ABERDEEN; W. M'comb, BELFAST; R.M. TIMS, DUBLIN; AND JAMES NISBET, LONDON.
Title-page of James Begg's A Connected View
sound a knowledge of the revealed purpose of God to be misled by premature anticipations:
"The 'consummation' has not yet arrived. God's controversy, or 'war', with His ancient people has not yet ceased; nor has 'that determined' been wholly poured upon its objects. But, as we have already seen, 'the end' or 'consummation' will come when the gospel has been 'preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations' and when the city and sanctuary cease to be 'made desolate'. God's controversy with His ancient people must cease before the Millennium. The prophet also foretells the awful tribulation by which it is preceded: 'Behold, The Lord maketh the earth empty ... therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men left' (Isaiah 24: 1-6, 23). The tribulation of which our Lord speaks must still be future ... "
Begg, like editors of The Christadelphian magazine in later years, sought for the smallest confirmatory evidence that the shaking of the dry bones of Israel was commencing -- a healthy indication of his attitude towards the Bible. He refers to a note in the Jewish Expositor of Jan. 1830 that one hundred Jews, from Constantinople, had arrived at Jaffa. With the wisdom born of diligent searching of the Word, he commented on its significance, predicting that it was the tiny, unnoticed precursor of a mighty mass migration. Then, he continues:
"In the plenitude of their uncontrolled power, earthly potentates may indeed combine, and with a view to perpetuate their systems of iniquity, may create kingdoms at will, allot them the territories they shall possess, and appoint the kings by whom they shall be governed, without asking counsel of the Lord. In all their calculations Israel may not be reckoned; in their disposal of territory, no portion may be assigned for their inheritance. But the God of Jacob has purposed, and who shall disannul it? Ezekiel 36:8."
As a prophecy of the sordid political intrigues of 1918 and the subsequent events of 1948, no reader of this book needs reminding of its perspicacity. It is reminiscent also of another famous passage in John Thomas' Elpis Israel, published in 1848.
A Witness to the Nations
Begg, also like John Thomas, did not share the optimistic expectation current among evangelicals of that time (and since) that the world
will be brought to bow the knee to Christ by the preaching of missionaries in "heathen" lands:
"We are bound to thank God for what success He has been pleased to bestow on missionary operations -- the present extent and anticipated increase of which must afford the purest delight to all rightly exercised Christians. The Millennium, it is supposed by many, will be the gracious result of the mere preaching of the Gospel. But the Scriptures do not represent the nations as having generally received the gospel at the period of Christ's return, nor is it the expectation of those who are now looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He ordained that the gospel should first be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations. When the Jews had filled up the measure of their iniquity, He let out His spiritual vineyard unto other husbandmen._ The gospel was then entrusted to certain nations of the Gentiles with the assurance that if they continued not in the goodness of God, they also should be cut off (Rom. 11:22). Instead, however, of profiting by the warning of God and the fate of Israel, these nations have perverted the gospel. While other nations are being put in possession of the gospel as a witness, those which have long been entrusted with God's Word and ordinances are ripening for judgement."
So far as the present writer is aware, Begg is the first author to seek a substantive proof from "asiatic researches" (as he calls them) that the "Tartars claim Magog as their progenitor". This view of the northern invader was, of course, generally followed not only by Christadelphian writers but by most prophetic expositors in subsequent decades.
Another associate of the Irving-Drummond group, Harriet Livermore, of Philadelphia, spasmodically edited the "Millennial Tidings" in the early I830's. She was in close contact by correspondence with Begg and others, and insisted also on the necessity of a Jewish return before the consummation. However, one element in her periodical which has interest here is her exposition of the Letters to The Seven Churches in the Apocalypse, in which her identification of seven stages of apostasy is a clear anticipation of the fuller treatment of this in John Thomas's Eureka.
It is clear that the religious faith and ethical ideals of the Brethren in Christ, despite persecution, dispersal and schism, still had power, continuing to generate groups, communities and isolated spirits in many places. In the early 19th century denominational labels were held in abhorrence by many of the more Biblicallyminded, and the existence of dozens of different names of independent local communities masks broad unity of outlook while accentuating minor differences. The pioneer spirit of the age, especially on the North American frontier, a certain independence of mind, the vast distances and the difficulty of travel, all meant that contact between groups was limited. Emigrants from Europe carried the views, ideals and hopes of the Brethren across the ocean and spread them thinly over a vast continent. Tracts, books and periodicals were cherished and passed around.
"In journeyings often"
There were men of resolute stamp for whom the New World held challenge rather than difficulty. Using mainly the saddle they travelled widely over the fringe lands of the United States and Canada in the first decades of the 19th century, providing the only links, other than tenuous correspondence, between small widely scattered congregations.
"The proclaiming of the gospel of the kingdom of God to be established on the earth was by means mainly of itinerant preaching. It was a gruelling and hard life. Method of travel was varied. Not infrequently it was by horseback, stage coach, canal boat, river steamer or plain walking. These men frequently would meet with brethren in conferences at various places. Outside of normal hardship and suffering from travel and exposure, the preacher would often be down with swamp fever, typhoid fever, lung fever and other sicknesses caused by the exposures and bad water. Despite these, he carried on and attempted to maintain his appointments. He was poor, oftentimes extremely so, as far as material goods were concerned, but rich in his faith in the return of Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom upon the earth, raise the saintly dead and change the living to a life of immortality" (Hatch).
The rigours of log-cabin life on the American frontier, especially in winter, appal us in these gentler days. Often a preacher would be invited to sleep on straw in a hut with glassless windows and
arctic blasts filtering through every chink between the logs. Religion was a powerful inspiration, since many of these immigrants or their forefathers had a religious motive for their coming to the land of freedom. And the freedom was exercised to the full, with controversy playing a major role in religious life. Minor theological points were hotly debated, and congregations divided and re- formed with bewildering abandon.
The pen was also mighty in the fray. If the 17th century was the age of tracts, the 19th century was the age of the religious periodical. Periodicals were born, flourished for a while and then changed their name and place of publication, or disappeared. The Expositor and Advocate, published by Joseph Marsh in Rochester, New York, was a rallying-point in the third decade of the century, and The Voice of Truth and Glad Tidings of the Kingdom, emanating from the same city, a few years later. There were several magazines called Messenger, and several called Investigator; these and others delved into Biblical prophecies in great detail, causing a ferment of adventist speculation and anticipation. These magazines and broadsheets circulated among a loose network of fiercely independent congregations in the north-east and mid-west of the United States; the origin of most of them is now obscure, but undoubtedly they had tenuous links through migration with communities of Brethren in Europe. Many of these steadfastly resisted the imposition of a formal creed, preferring, like the "Seekers" of the 17th century to have an open-minded and undogmatic approach to the Bible, though in practice doctrinal differences were not great. They would readily welcome any speaker into their midst and hear him if they believed he had any views or expositions worth contributing. They gathered in simple meeting-houses such as that in Illinois illustrated, and it was in this atmosphere of religious freedom, fierce controversy, a stern piety, eager and in many cases open-minded audiences, that men such as Joseph Marsh and D. I. Robinson in the twenties and thirties, B. B. Brown and particularly John Thomas in the forties of the century travelled, preached and published.
Before considering the work of John Thomas, reference should be made to a fellow-Londoner who was a contemporary of his, John Epps. Like John Thomas, Epps was a medical practitioner, but despite almost identical views on the interpretation of Scripture,
and the fact that both were keen in propagating their views, evidence is lacking of any certain contact between the two men. Epps, however, while a vigorous exponent of the views shared by both, never endeavoured to develop a community which would survive him.
Epps was born into high Calvinist circles, in comfortable circumstances in a south-cast suburb of London, in 1805. Disgusted with the religious atmosphere in which he found himself, he went to Edinburgh to study medicine. There was a broad crusading spirit in Epp's character, for he disseminated his not inconsiderable energies over a wide range of causes. He campaigned for the new ideas of homoeopathy, for phrenology, for social justice, for educational reforms and above all for his views on Christianity. In fact his encyclopaedic mind and extensive interests were such that he made little permanent impact in any single field, which was a pity since many of his ideas were far ahead of his time. He "incessantly lectured, wrote letters, spoke at public meetings in connection with religious and social reforms". The titles of these lectures cover a fantastic range of topics: "Influence of Parents on their Offspring"; "The Observations of Linnaeus"; "Degeneracy of Plants grown perpetually in the same Soil"; "The Devil"; "The Fall of Man". From 1835 to 1839 he published the periodical The Christian Physician and Anthropololgical Magazine, and two years later he gave a celebrated -- or notorious, according to one's viewpoint - series of twelve lectures in the "Working Man's Church" in Bermondsey, London. These considered the fundamental doctrines of first-century Christianity: resurrection, the soul, hell, sin, communion, the devil. In 1842 he was prevailed upon to publish anonymously his most controversial work, which a reverend critic called "a laboured attempt to dispose of the existence of the devil, adding one more proof of the awful fact". His own title was "The Devil: a Biblical exposition of the truth concerning that old serpent, the devil and Satan and a refutation of the beliefs obtaining in the world regarding sin and its source". Clearly the 17th century did not have a monopoly of long sub-titles! Much opposition was aroused by the publication, and a lecture given shortly afterward to the Tooting Institution at the Mitre Inn in that London suburb caused serious offence and led to widespread ostracism and hostility.
In The Devil (2) and other publications Epps rejects the doctrine
(2) This booklet was republished by a group of Australian Christadelphians in 1944 without their knowing the identity of the author. [To see "The Evil One" click here.]
of the soul's immortality and expounds from the Scripture the hope of resurrection. Hell is the grave; the devil and Satan are in the main to be understood as personifications of the lustful principle in man. He rejects the trinitarian view of Christ, showing that he prayed to "God", not just to the "Father"; Jesus is the Son of God, by nature man; the second coming of Christ is emphasised. All the cherished principles held by the Brethren in earlier days are there, So is their language concerning larger Protestant churches as being the "harlot daughters of Rome". He speaks out vigorously against the glorification of war-heroes -- "the honour of the British flag is a specious phrase which blinds men's eyes to right and wrong". He had a broad vision of the international role of the Christian Gospel.
His own childlike humility and submission to the dictates of the Bible revelation were such that he remained puzzled to the last by the immense variety of creeds that claimed derivation from the same Bible, some so patently in contradiction with it. Epps was in many ways in his personality and interests, in his piety of spirit and widely questing mind, in his dynamic energy, an embodiment of the early 19th century. Yet he was in more important ways treading in the footsteps of Biddle, Wissowaty and Hubmaier.
Short and stocky, reportedly with a beaming, self-confident expression, the energetic doctor was never lost for words. They flowed like a Niagara from the moment he grasped the rostrum, sonorous and animated. The sheer nervous effort of giving countless lectures -- many of them hours long -- and writing the voluminous articles on dozens of different topics must have hastened to a somewhat agitated close a fantastically busy life. His closing days were occupied with investigation into animal magnetism.
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