My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: The Bankruptcy Court – The Name “Christadelphian.”
In the month of July, 1865, a change occurred in my occupation which tended greatly to enlarge my liberty in the service of the truth. Up to that time I was on the reporting staff of The Birmingham Daily Post, a position in which it was with difficulty that I carried on the monthly publication of The Ambassador, as The Christadelphian was then called; and as for lecturing anywhere out of Birmingham, that was out of the question. That I should ever be liberated from the drudgery of newspaper work seemed most unlikely, but it came about in a most unlikely way.
My duties on the paper made me acquainted with a post that I discerned would be “just the thing” – combining the double advantage of a liberal livelihood, easily earned, and ample leisure for literary and travelling work in connection with the truth, but the said post was out of my reach in two ways: the position itself was only a possibility, and I totally lacked the social influence needful to obtain it, even if it became developed.
I am referring to the shorthand writing work required by the Birmingham Bankruptcy Court. This was not a regular thing. It was only in cases “few and far between” that the evidence required to be taken down question and answer. But when such cases occurred the quantity of work involved was considerable, and the rate of remuneration was fixed by Act of Parliament according to the number of words. Though the cases in which the work was required wee not many, they were sufficient in number to yield a good livelihood, if all the work were in the hands of one man. But the work was divided. It was given to whatever eligible newspaper reporter might happen to be present, who would sometimes be one man and sometimes another.
Suppose, thought I, the work could all be given to one and I should be that one, I should be free for the work of the truth, and at the same time earn my own living. But it was apparently an idle supposition, for the court had no power under the Act to appoint a standing official, in whose hands all the shorthand writing should be concentrated: iut could only employ a man in any given case requiring it. However, the apparently idle thought became a pleasant reality presently.
The usher of the court one day told me seriously that the Judge (who was known as “The Commissioner”) had resolved to appoint a shorthand writer to the court, and he advised me to send in an application. It was a practical joke on his part, but I did not know this till afterwards. Supposing his statement to be true, I sent in an application, accompanied with testimonials which I obtained for the purpose. In a few days the Commissioner sent for me, and asked what my letter meant. I told him I had been informed he had made up his mind to appoint an official shorthand writer. He said he had no power: he could only appoint in individual cases. I said I was aware of this, but supposed he had decided, for the convenience of the court, to appoint one person to do the work in all cases. I said if he chose to give me such an appointment, I would place myself entirely at the service of the court, which would ensure the prompt supply of transcripts. The court had often to wait for the transcripts of notes under the present arrangement, owing to the reporters being busy with other work; I also said that I would without fee takes notes of everything that passed in court, so that the court could at any time refer back to what had passed in case of dispute arising, and I should expect payment only in those cases in which transcripts might be required. The Commissioner said it was a very nice proposal but he did not feel at liberty to make such an arrangement, by which the gentlemen of the press who attended his court might feel themselves deprived of a vested interest. And he bowed me out politely.
I thought the affair was over; but in three weeks afterwards, one of the minor judges sent for me: (there were three judges in all –the two minor ones being known as “Registrars.”) The Registrar said the Commissioner and the two Registrars had been talking over what I had proposed, and they had come to the conclusion that if I would sever my connection with the newspapers, they would appoint me to do all the shorthand writing required. This I at once expressed my willingness to do; and in a day or two, the Commissioner at a public sitting of the court, announced my appointment, which was duly reported in the papers.
Thus I found myself through the effect of a canard, in the very position I had for some time discerned and desired as the position suitable to the work I had in hand in connection with the truth. The court only sat two days in the week; and twice a year had long vacations which allowed of my accepting lecturing appointments in other parts of the country. This was a great contrast to the daily duties of a newspaper. None was more surprised than the usher to see the practical effect of his joke.
I had, of course, to give a month’s notice to the editor of the Daily Post. While this month was running, I had to perform the duties of my new position in addition to my duties as a newspaper reporter, in consequence of which I was unable to get The Ambassador ready. I made up for this by issuing a double number in the month following, containing the following apology: “It (the delay) was imposed upon us by the extra labour attending a change in circumstance, which we need not trouble our readers by describing in particular; and to this delay we were induced to submit without impatience by the prospect that in the new position which we shall have assumed before this meets the eye of the reader, we shall be more at freedom that heretofore to serve the cause which we have espoused as the only cause among mortal men deserving whole-souled and exclusive consecration. That cause is the cause of life against death; knowledge against ignorance; wisdom against folly; holiness against impurity; the honour of God against the impiety of men; the glorious future against the dead past and the corrupt and dying present –which, gathered into more concrete phrases, may be described as the Bible against unbelief; the true teaching thereof against the false and absurd and monstrous tenets of modern orthodoxy, consolidated in the popular religious systems of the time; the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ against the unscriptural and unsaving Gospel preached in churches, chapels, and meeting-houses.”
The circulation of The Ambassador had slowly gone up since its commencement; and as a little margin began to show after the printer was paid, I decided upon adding four pages monthly to the 16 of which the magazine originally consisted. There was need for enlargement, for with more time to bestow on the literary evolution of spiritual things, I found 16 pages 2quite inadequate to the matter developing in my hands. Letters and contributed articles, which I had from the beginning intended to make a feature, were standing over, and subjects of pressing moment were waiting a convenient opportunity that never seemed to come. It was not certain that I should get all the money back that the enlargement would cost; but I decided to venture, and in the end, was not disappointed. The enlargement commenced with the 19th number. Afterwards, other enlargements followed, till finally the magazine attained an established position.
Somewhere about this time, the following acknowledgment was received from Dr. Thomas of some money which had been collected and sent to him to alleviate the stress caused by the just concluded American Civil War: --
“The motive principle which has caused out brethren on your list to place the L55 at my disposal is doubtless their appreciation of the truth, and the enjoyment of the freedom it confers. No higher motive can actuate the human mind, and none can be more pleasing to him who has said ‘I am the truth.’ He will, therefore, doubtless accept it as an offering to himself, and be, therewith, well pleased. I am much obliged to the brethren for their liberal contribution in the straitness of the times which has come upon us here; but I appreciate it far above the amount, because of the spontaneousness of the gift…. My earnest desire is to see developed in Britain a people who shall be separated and distinct from all others; the foundation of whose distinctiveness and separation shall be the intelligent belief and obedience of the truth, not mere opinionists and speculatiors, but a people in whom is ‘full assurance of faith,’ and ‘full assurance of hope.’ Such a people would be ‘a people prepared for the Lord.’ The ‘religious world’ so-called, is the apostasy foretold by Paul. A prepared people must be separate and distinct from this in faith and hope and love. There can be no identity and sympathy between them. We cannot fraternize with the religious world and be prepared for the coming of the Lord, who comes to destroy it. A prepared people are Christ’s brethren (Christadelphians), and rejoice in this exclusive relationship, and none are entitled to this high position but those who do the will of the Father who is in heaven (Matt. 12:50).
Also about this time, we were all deeply interested in a petition got up by the brethren in America to Congress, praying for exemption from the military conscription which the exigencies of the civil war had caused to be more vigorously and generally applied to the population. Shortly after the petition was sent in, the war ceased. The document itself is of spiritual value and of historic interest. It was the composition of Dr. Thomas, and is as follows: --
To the Senators and Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled.
GENTLEMEN, --Your petitioners respectfully submit that they belong to “a very small remnant” of that sect, which in the days of the Apostles was “everywhere spoken against” because of its testimony against “the world rulers of the darkness of that age; and against the spirituals of the wickedness in the high places of the State (Eph. 6:12). This has been their testimony in all ages of their standing before the “Powers that be.” Inheriting their principles, your petitioners are brought under the obligation of maintaining their testimony; although, as in past experience of thousands of them, it may be necessary to seal it with the loss of goods, liberty, or life.
During the past eighteen hundred years they have been distinguished from heterogeneous “names and denominations” of the kingdom of the clergy, by various titles imposed upon them by their enemies. These names they repudiate; and, in accordance with apostolic teaching, that al the real children of God are the brethren of Jesus (a relationship in which their brethren in all ages have glorified), your petitioners choose to be known as CHRISTADELPHIANS, or brethren of Christ.
Your petitioners belong to a very small remnant whose constituents are found in England, Scotland, the British Provinces, the United State, Virginia and Mississippi. Wherever found their principles are identical, having been taught by THE WORD, not of man, but of God. By this teacher, whose authority alone they recognise, they are commanded not to kill, nor even to be angry with their fellow-men without a cause, under penalty of the judgment; not to resist evil; to love their enemies, bless them that curse them, do good to them that hate them, pray for them who despitefully use them and persecute them, not to be as the hypocrites who profess one thing and practise the contrary; and that whatsoever they would that men should do to them, even so they must do to men; for this is the law and the prophets. These commands your petitioners are bound to obey, come what may, and under whatsoever government they may happen to sojourn. Human governments, indeed, undertake to change the times and laws of Deity; but eighteen centuries afford no scope for change with Christadelphians who “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints”; and who, under pain of exclusion from eternal life, are bound to “obey God rather than man.”
Now your petitioners respectfully affirm that they are of that class especially provided for in the Enrolment Act as conscientiously opposed to the bearing and use of “weapons of war”, and to the shedding of human blood; and as brethren of Christ, owing allegiance only to Him, as King of Israel, positively refuse, under any circumstances whatever, to engage in the armies and navies of any government.
The Divine Word teaches them that wars and fightings come of men’s lusts. Hence the brethren of Christ, who are commanded to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” have no sympathy with, and will take no part in such conflicts; but ask the world-rulers of this age to be considerate enough to let them alone. They render to Caesar what is lawfully his; but when he undertake to circumvent the principles Deity has enjoined, they, as His people, resist even unto death.
In conclusion, your petitioners would add, that the brethren of Christ in Richmond, Lunenburg, and King William County, Va., and Jefferson County, Mississippi have, under the influence of the principles herein avowed, refused to bear arms in the Confederate service, as we hereby do in that of the United States; and that a law as passed by the Confederate Congress recognising their refusal as lawful and right. Being, therefore, desirous of placing themselves clearly upon record as opposed to war by whomsoever waged; your petitioners firmly protest against any enactment that forces them into antagonistic relation with their faith and conviction of duties to God, and their fellow-men, and ask of the Honourable the American Congress, respect to the Divine injunction which says “Touch not Mine anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”
And, as in duty bound, they pray to the God of Heaven, through Jesus Christ their elder brother and High Priest, that you may be directed to such an issue in their behalf as will be approved by Him.
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