My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: “The Athenaeum”.
My appointment at the Bankruptcy Court as official shorthand writer got reported in some quarters in the wrong way. It was said that I had become bankrupt. Some good people in the South of England, for whom I had consented to lecture, wrote in distress to the effect that they did not believe in the morality of bankruptcy, and that if my affairs were “in court,” they must cancel the proposed arrangement. When I explained the real state of the case, they were amused, and increased the cordiality of their invitation. Thus it always is with a false report: it may be the arrow of malice, but in course of time it falls point-blunted to the ground. The armour of righteousness, in the shape of a state of facts that will bear investigation, opposes a plate of steel to its entrance, “quenching the fiery darts of the wicked.” But woe to the man of whom an evil report is true. He becomes as chary as a hunted hare, and flies before the fatal arrow.
Our meetings in Ann Street schoolroom becoming inconveniently crowded, we began to look round for another place. With increasing numbers, we began to feel able to face a larger responsibility in the way of rent. Our enquiries resulted in the discovery of the Athenaeum Hall, situate in the very heart of Birmingham, viz., at the top of Temple Street, in Temple Row. It had been built for an Art Gallery, and had the words “permanent Art Gallery” cut in large letters outside in stone; but the gallery had been a failure and the place was now empty –not only empty of a tenant, but empty of seats or furnishings of any kind, and in a very dirty state. It was being used as a temporary show place for a new toy rocking horse by a Quaker name Mr. Seed, whose affairs proved very seedy indeed. We had to apply to this Mr. Seed about the Sunday tenancy. He agreed to let us have it for L40 a year, but would do nothing to it. The black walls he would leave standing in their grime; and the floor he would leave naked and bare as we saw it. We could do what we liked with it, but he would do nothing to help. The brethren decided they could not look at the place on these terms. The rent would be of itself about as much as they could manage. To go to the expense of whitewashing and painting it, and providing seats besides, was quite out of the question. So the matter ended for the moment. But I considered the matter, and decided to venture on taking the cleaning and furnishing part of the burden on myself, with the probability of others voluntarily joining me afterwards. I then submitted the matter afresh to the brethren: would they take the hall at the rental of L40 if the cleaning and furnishing were found?
They hesitated, but finally consented. So we set to work and got the place cleaned, painted and an array of benches put in, capable of seating about three hundred people. The place looked neat and bright when the workmen walked out. It took two or three weeks to set the place in order. We arranged to enter on the 19th of August, 1866; but lo, we were caught in a snare before the happy day arrived. We learnt that Mr. Seed was in the hands of his creditors, and the landlord from whom Mr. Seed held the premises would seize our things for his arrears of rent, if we did not at once remove them. There was nothing for it but to take our reverse in the pleasantest manner possible, and at all events to get our little bits of furniture out of the clutches of the wolf. If I remember rightly, we got the news on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, a week or so before the opening day. At all events, we set to work on a Sunday morning and removed all our things. Where we removed them to, I do not now remember. And we felt in a somewhat foolish position, with such a quantity of stuff on our hands and no place to put them in. Some of our slower brethren, who had been afraid to take the hall, were not slow to speak lugubriously now.
However, the storm blew over. The landlord of the place, learning the situation, waited on me and offered to hand over the whole place to me for L30 more than we had agreed to five for a Sunday and one week day occupation –pointing out to me that in such a central position, the hall would easily let for casual purposes, and that I might easily make something beyond the rent. After considering his proposal and perceiving that I would be able to have an office in the hall, for which I was already paying L25 at 25, Waterloo Street, I decided to take the hall on the terms offered, and thus through the force of circumstances, I found myself in the position of a lessee of a public hall.
The thing worked advantageously in various ways. We were able to introduce an immersion bath, and so get rid of the inconvenience of having to repair to the upper room of a barber’s shop in Summer Lane every time a friend desired to obey the truth. Then having command of the corner downstairs (for the hall stood at the corner of two thoroughfares), I was able to put up permanent notice board which kept the truth’s existence and operations steadily before the community. Then, we were able to have the hall any time and as often as we liked for the purposes of the truth, which led to our having a week-night meeting, a singing practice meeting, tea meetings, etc. The public lets were not numerous. Still, between one thing and another, I was able to meet all expenses and to furnish first the office and then the hall with various cupboards required for the increasing stock of books.
Our entrance upon the hall coincided with the culmination of a slowly developing crisis in the affairs of the truth –arising out of what came to be known as Dowieism –from the name of the leading man, whom it became necessary to resist. Dr. Thomas had from time to time warned us against the influence, from which we had finally to break away. In 1865, he wrote: --
“They (these men) acknowledge so much of the truth as to give currency to the thinking of their unenlightened brains with the ignorant and weak. What they acknowledge is the gilding of the base metal of their currency; from which the genuine ring of fine gold cannot be struck out. For over thirty years I have been engaged in ferreting out the truth to the obedience of which I was brought by ‘the testimony of God’ some fifteen years ago. In those days, the current periodicals were as destitute of allusion to the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Name, as though such things had not been revealed in the world. Now, however, the phrases are in the mouths and articles of a multitude of talkers and scribblers. This shows that the subject commands attention; and in this I rejoice. But when I perceive that these ‘heavenly things’ are made only a vehicle for ‘earthly things’ of the most ‘sensual and demoniac’ description, I am both chagrined and mortified. Had I the authority and power, I would very soon suppress, without one warning, much less three, such twaddling sheets as The Messenger, with you; and The Banner, Harbinger, World’s Crisis, Voice of the West, etc., with us. The public head is crazed enough with nonsense without putting into it more than is already there. If their publishers understood the truth and were loyal to it, they would pursue a different course. They need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God –to learn instead of to teach, for which they have neither the knowledge, faith, nor aptitude. But I have neither the authority nor the power, and therefore the evil which is rampant will have to grow till the Lord’s apocalypse, ‘who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God’ –every man, of course, who has earned it by faithfulness in the truth.”
Again, he wrote on February 9th, 1865: -- “I am no man’s personal enemy, I have neither time nor inclination to trouble myself about persons or their affairs. I have enough to do in this department to take care of my own personalia, without interfering in other people’s. But when they approach me on the premises of the truth, then they are either my friends or my foes, and I am their’s. I am their friend for the truth’s sake, or I am their foe for the truth’s sake. I would rather be the friend than the foe of any one, upon any ground. This is the bent of my fleshly nature: and if men will not be friendly, I do not feel resentful, but my disposition is to give them a wide berth or margin, because the world is wide; and if they are disposed to travel north, I will travel due south; or if they would go west, I will go due east; and think of them and their’s no more. This is the natural man. But if they pretend to be the friends of the truth, and they are neither intelligent in, nor faithful to, what I believe to be the truth, and will not consent to be instructed, then I have a duty to perform as one of Christ’s brethren, in obedience to apostolic injunction, and that is ‘to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,’ and in so doing, which is well-doing, ‘to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, that, their mouths being stopped, they may no longer subvert whole houses, and lead captive silly people laden with sins’. In the performance of the duty common to all the faithful, I do not wait to be attacked. If no one will go with me to the assault, I go alone, with the determination to scatter them, or be demolished in the attempt; in which, however, I do not expect to succeed, because ‘the saints are prevailed against till the Ancient of Days comes.’ Why then labour in expected failure? To obey the injunction, and to prove my own faith. In this spiritual warfare whose weapons are neither lead nor steel, but more effective than either for putting to flight the aliens, there are neither truce, armistice, neutrality, nor peace. He that is not with us is against us; and he that gathereth not with us scattereth abroad.
“I, for one, know no one in this warfare as a brother and friend who is neutral or not gathering. A man who is neutral stands by with arms folded and sees the enemy crushing me to death. He believes in the cause I am fighting for, but he calmly views by destruction without any sign of help. Is such a man my friend and brother? Is he not rather a sympathiser with the enemy? If he helped me, we might prove too strong for the foe; the enemy knowing this, cannot look upon neutrals in any other light than his friends. And this is just where Christ puts all neutrals in the good fight of faith.
“But, if this be the position of neutrals, what shall be said of those who either oppose or nullify what we believe to be the truth? Who not only do so, but seek to destroy the influence of those who have, while they were mere heathens, proved themselves through evil and through good report, and when the truth had few to say a good word for it, faithful advocates of it – what shall be said of them? They may virtually acquiesce in the theory of the truth, but can we call them friends and brethren? Are they Christ’s brethren? How can they be, seeing Christ is the truth? If they were Christ’s brethren, they would love the zealous and disinterested advocates of the truth, and would be careful to do nothing that would embarrass them. Shall I call such enemies of Christ my friends and brethren? I tell you, any; I will have none such, if I know it. They are my enemies, and it is my duty to make war upon them. If I belong to the Spirit’s witnessing prophets clothed in sackcloth, and any man will to injure me in my witnessing, it is my duty to devour him with the fire of my mouth –to torment him with my testimony. He may not feel very pleasant while under this fire; if he get wounded, it is his own fault; he should keep out of the way; but if he persist in storming our works then ‘he must in this manner be killed.’
“I have no sympathy with a yea-and –nay profession and advocacy of the truth. It does no good to the professor, to those who are associated with him, nor to those dwelling in outer darkness. ‘The whole world lieth in the Evil One’ –in sin; and the only exceptions to this are the untraditionised believers of the truth we believe and teach, and have obeyed, and are walking as little children therein. If we are these Scriptural exceptions, we have nothing to do but keep clear of this evil world, and to testify against all the traditions it would substitute for the truth, or by which it may seek to nullify it. The greatest and most dangerous enemies to Christ are those who pretend to be his friends, but are not faithful to his doctrine; and they are unfaithful who, from any motives of personal interest, would weaken the point of the doctrine, or soften it for the gratification of their natural feelings, or for fear of hurting the feelings of the enemy, and so affecting their popularity with him. I trust that this is not the case with any of our friends in Calton Convening Rooms. They and all such in Britain have a great and important work before them in this country. It is to bring people to the understanding of the ancient apostolic faith doctrine, and to the obedience of faith, in the form inculcated by them upon all believers. If our friends faithfully and intelligently execute this mission, they will be placed in opposition to all the world –they will find themselves in the position of the Spirit’s witnessing prophets, standing in the court of the Gentiles, and bearing testimony against “the God of the earth,” with all the power, learning, and influence of the Great Harlot, her State daughters, and dissenting abominations arrayed against them; and besides all this, the heartlessness and cowardice and treachery of professed neutrals and friends. To take up such a position and to maintain it without surrender, requires knowledge and faith working by love of what is known. Hence, the necessity of meditation upon the word. This will develop faith, and the more an honest-hearted man understands of the word untraditionised by what is falsely called science, the more enlarged and the stronger will his faith become; and the more valiant will he be for the truth, and the more efficient for the work before him as a ‘witness,’ a ‘prophet,’ a ‘lightstand,’ and an ‘olive tree,’ ‘before the Deity of the earth.’
“You can do nothing for the truth in the Modern Athens that will be recognised by the King at his appearing, if you follow your old ways when you used, as brother Steel say, ‘to discuss everything and settle nothing,’ and call it exhortation and teaching. Such is mere twaddle, and will never make you appear before the enemy, the great Babylon around you, ‘fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.’ You will only be terrible to your friends. ‘Discussing everything and settling nothing’ is a weakness that will never grow into strength. No good can possibly come out of it; and will cause no one to wax valiant in the fight, or ‘to turn to flight the armies of the aliens.’ Some are always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Such may unprofitably occupy time, but they can edify no one. All their ‘discussions’ and ‘investigations’ amount to nothing. The light of truth must shine clearly in a man’s head, before he can speak critically or accurately upon ‘the deep things of the spirit’; and if you undertake to implant these in the brains of modern Athenians, who, like their brethren of old time, are exceedingly fond of gossip, you must be bright and lucid in your irradiations, that you may shine away the darkness of the subtleties, and the vagaries of the inner-consciousness, with which the cup of the Old Harlot has crazed and intoxicated them. And this you will find to be, if you have not already done so, no easy work to do. The traditions radiating infinitely and at all angles form almost an impenetrable cloud –a cloud which befogs everything and renders it impervious to ‘the simplicity that is in Christ.’ But shall we despair? By no means. The work before us at present in not to demolish Anti-Christ, and the tradition with which he is clothed, as with a black and threatening cloud. This is beyond our power, as it is extra the mission of the saints against whom he has prevailed almost ‘forty and two months.’ His demolition is their work, when joined therein by the Ancient of Days. This is their patience and faith (Rev. 13:10; 14:12). The real saints are waiting for this. In the meantime they hold the position of the witnesses for Jesus, and it is required in witnesses who are stewards of the testimony that they be faithful after the example of Christ and Antipas (Rev. 1:5; 3:14; 2:13). At present they have to show the truth in every way that will make the truth shine; that it may stand out in the foreground of the picture so distinctly from all surroundings that observers at a glance may distinguish it in all its outlines without any possibility of confounding it with the dark cloud of the things beyond. This work for us to do, that men seeing the photograph of Christ written upon their minds by his testimony, which is light, may confess that it is a true, faithful, and beautiful picture, and embracing it with affectionate hearts may so put it into their bosom and become married or rather betrothed, unto the Lord. In this way an enlightened and affectionate and valiant people will be prepared for him, who will not only be watching for him, but with garment kept, and lamps well trimmed with the golden oil of the good olive tree, be ready to enter in on the closing of the door against all the world.”
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