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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE:   Strained Relations with Dr. Thomas     


The Doctor left us in due course to keep appointments at various places in England and Scotland.  I have bitten my tongue several times since at the recollection of the hard work laid out for him by youthful inexperience.  Having no particular sense of fatigue in those days myself, I laid out the programme on the time principle merely, without allowing for the recuperative needs of a man verging towards elderly life.   Most of the nights were arranged for and all day on Sundays.  “Poor Dr. Thomas,” I have said many times since.  It was too bad.  People of robust health and strong intellectual interest are so liable to look upon a lecturer as a machine that can go of course.  They forget he is human, and that his energy can be pumped out, and must have time to brew again before he is fit for work without harm.  Hearers feel only the pleasure of his words, and do not feel the fatigue caused to him by the consumption of brain fuel.  They feel refreshed by his lecture, and cannot help imagining that he feels so too.


I distinctly recollect supposing, in the days of boyhood, that there was a good deal of affectation in the allusions I used to see in the papers about speakers being exhausted by their efforts.  It was part of my ignorance.  We are all ignorant to start with.  We think we know when we don’t.  Experience is the only thorough  and accurate teacher: and it teaches by a quiet and slow and extensive process of tuition that cannot easily be formulated in words afterwards.  It is made up of a thousand mental accretions that can only come with the varied experiences and reflections of years.  Hence the scriptural exaltation of age over youth.


I see it all now: but in my young days I felt a hot-spur impulsiveness of wisdom, of which I am now ashamed.  At the same time, I was unfortunate in having no teachers that gave me the curb of reason.  There was dumb opposition or passive dogmatism which I could not distinguish from stupidity.  Had I been privileged with access to enlightened and benevolent and communicative experience, I think I could have listened and would have been swayed; for I had always a strong relish for reason.  However, it is all past now, and the Doctor has got through his wearisome labours, and rest with Daniel, ready to “stand in his lot at the end of days” now nearly finished.


During his tour, his mind was poisoned against me by envious seniors, who were more alive to their personal consequence than to the great and glorious work of which the Doctor was the humble instrument, and whicn I was striving with all my might to abet.  I saw and felt the change when he returned from his journey” but I knew it would only be temporary when the Doctor came to know the men he was dealing with.  It turned out as I anticipated, but it took time and, meanwhile, his manifestly unfriendly bias was a trial to me –quite a bitter one for a time.  Had I not been a daily reader and a fervent lover of the oracles of God for myself, I should have turned away in disgust.  As it was, it made me turn round, as it were,  and look at the Bible again, and see if Dr. Thomas was really right.  There was only one answer;  and therefore, I swallowed my bitters and made up my mind to wait.


The sharpest rap was the imputation of a mercenary motive in the list of name which I had appended to the second edition of the Twelve Lectures.  This list included some in Scotland who did not take a thorough-going attitude on behalf of the truth, although connected with the meetings there that were based upon a professed acceptance of the truth.  I did not know at the time how partial was their allegiance and how limited was their apprehension of scriptural things, and how uncertain was their repudiation of the established fables of the day which so thoroughly make void the Word of God.  They were professing brethren, and I felt called on to give them the benefit of all doubts.  I was indeed much afraid of  doing them a wrong in apparently proscribing them.  I had before my eyes the fear of the words of Christ about offending one of the little ones believing on him, which had, in fact, been one of the chiefest sources of my distress in all the wranglings and divisions that have since arisen in connection with the truth, and I had not attained that liberty that comes from clearer sight and a greater breadth of view in all matters affecting the relations of God and man.


Therefore, in the said list of names of referees for the guidance of interested strangers, I gave a place to men from whom afterwards I was compelled to separate.  I did not do it without a mental struggle.  It was said I had put them to help the sale of the lectures.  Oh, how much was this contrary to the truth!  I had no object in selling the lectures, for they yielded no profit; and all the sale that I ever expected had already taken place.  Finally, it was distinctly as a concession to the fear of doing wrong that I inserted the names at all.  It was a sharp lesson in the art of patient suffering for well-doing and making no reprisals.


I wrote to the Doctor in explanation of my action, and in defence of the men impugned.  I received no answer.  Time went on and I came to see that duty required my separation from a doubtful fellowship.  I wrote again to the Doctor, telling him of the correction of my perceptions.  In five months afterwards, I received the following letter: --


“West Hoboken, Hudson Co., N.J.,

                 “October 28th, 1864.


“DEAR BROTHER ROBERTS, --I have received  from you two letters –one dated February 11th, and the other May 30th –to neither of which have I been able to find time to reply.  In relation to the former one, I consider the delay has been and advantage to us both; and in regard to the last, I do not think the procrastination will have resulted in any harm.  Had I replied to the former, I should have had to do battle with you to bring you into the position you now occupy with regard to those blind leaders of the blind – Duncan, Dowie, Fordyce and Co.  When the truth is in question, the benefit of all doubts should be given to it, not to those whose influence with respect to it is only evil and that continually.  You erred in giving them any benefit of doubt in the premises; but I rejoice that you have seen the error, and will no more send inquirers after the truth to inquire at such Gospel nullifiers as the.


                “I have a copy of your letter to Dowie.  It is straightforward and to the point.  We can have no fellwoship with men holding such trashy stuff as the April number of the falsely-styled Messenger of the Churches exhibits.  A man who believes in the Devil of the religious world and that he has the powers of disease and death, etc., is ignorant of ‘the things of the Name of Jesus Christ.’  If what are styled ‘the churches’ are not delivered from the influence of the above firm of pretentious ignorance, our endeavours to revive apostolic faith and practice in Britain will be a miserable failure.  No one should be recognised as one of Christ’s brethren who is not sound in the first principles of the Gospel before immersion.  The Kingdom and the Name are the great central topics of the Testimony of Deity.  These are the things to be elaborated; and he that is not well and deeply versed in these only shows his folly and presumption in plunging head over ears into prophetic and apocalyptic symbols and mysteries.


                “I am truly glad you’re are ‘located’ in Birmingham at last.  I hope you may be instrumental in effecting mudh good, that is, in bringing many to a comprehensive and uncompromising faith and obedience.  No parleying with the adversary, no neutrality: Christ or nothing.  I hope you will be able to shoulder my friend Davis off the fence.  He understands, I believe, and can defend the theory of the truth; but from the obedience to the faith he looks askance. 


There is brother Bailey, too; he is a kind-hearted and sober-minded brother; but I think rather too diffident of himself.  Just put the point of the Spirit’s sword into him, so as to stir him up to what he can do, without hurting him.  I spent much pleasant time with him in Birmingham.  Tell brother Wallis that we had an eccentric colonel in this country, killed in this war I believe, David Crocket by name, who use to say, ‘Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead.’  The Public Prosecutor, I fear, is to well-to-do and too pious to be converted to the obedience of faith.  It is the greatest difficulty we have to contend with in the case of outsiders –that of converting ‘Christians’ to Christianity.  When you see his excellency, please give my respectful compliments to his pious sinnership, in such set form as you may deem best.


                “Will you please write to Mr. Robertson and request him, if he have funds enough of mine in hand, to send me, through Wiley of New York, and his agent in Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, a volume entitled ‘Vigilantius and his Times,’ by Dr. Gilly.  I suppose it may be obtained of Sealey and Co., Fleet Street, London.  Said Vigilantius flourished in the fourth century, and occupied very much the position to his contempoaries that I do to mine, and was about as popular.  I wish, therefore, to form his acquaintance.   It will doubtless be refreshing.


                “You are right.  Your ‘mistake’ evoked the testimony of Antipas.  It was designed to draw the line between faithful witnesses and pretenders in Britain; and to define our position here in relation to war, so that if any of us were drafted by the Devil, we might be able to prove that we are a denomination conscientiously opposed to bearing arms in his service.


                “Half-a-dozen copies of each number of The Ambassador have come to hand.  Our currency here will prevent any circulation in this country.  A paper dollar with us (and paper is all we have) is only worth 40 cents in Canada.  You did not wait to learn if I thought it expedient for my biography to appear.  It is too late now to say anything against it.  What can’t be cured must be endured.  I hope the paper will be self-supporting, and pioneer a strait and narrow way for the truth through the dense, dark forest and swamps on every side.


                “In future, it would be well not to herald my death until hearing from me direct.  Not mixing myself up with politicians, I am not likely to die by their hand.  Some pious Methodist or Presbyterian would be more likely to put me out of the way.  A late pupil of sister Nisbet’s, when she was Miss Gardner, and lived in Berwick, now the wife of a physician in Toronto, who is interested in the truth, greatly to her annoyance and chagrin, said recently, ‘I wish it were right to poison him!’ –a very pious wish for one who calls herself ‘a Christian of the Presbyterian order.’  When I die my family will certify the fact.  But Paul says, ‘We shall not all sleep.’  I and you and others may be of these.  Change without death will happen to some.  I trust we may be among such.  My father died last spring, aged 82.  He died at Washington City, D.C., without the least sickness.  Remember me kindly to sister R. and to all the faithful, and believe me sincerely yours in the faith and hope of the Gospel, in which all true Christadelphians rejoice.

                                                                                                                                                                                “JOHN THOMAS.”



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