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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER  THIRTY-FOUR:  The “Declaration.”


The Declaration [“A Declaration of the First Principles of the Oracles of the Deity.”]  came into existence about the beginning of 1867.  Its history is peculiar.  It is an anonymous work, as all are aware: but of course it had a definite authorship –the suppression of which was due to an unpleasant complication with its pleasant compiler –a gentleman, originally from London, but who had been living for some time in the United States, and who was in England at this time on a visit of some duration.  He came to Birmingham, stayed a while and made himself most pleasantly useful in the office –a lithe, active, cheerful, and munificent volunteer.


 While co-operating in this way in the most acceptable manner, the idea of the Declaration was broached –that is, to get up a pamphlet which should set forth the truth is a series of propositions, with the proof texts quoted in full, instead of being merely referred to for the reader to turn up.  Our agreeable volunteer undertook to provide the funds for the printing of a large edition of said pamphlet, to sell at a penny –whatever it should cost.  (In point of fact, the first edition cost about sixpence per copy.)  He also undertook to collect the material for its contents; that is, to cut out and roughly arrange the various passages that would be wanted under various headings.  As a matter of fact, he devoted a large amount of industry to this work, collecting footnotes from various writers in addition to passages from Scripture.  The first idea was that the work should be wholly his, and with this idea, I had advertised it in advance as a pamphlet by him.


When he had collected all the material, he handed it over to me to put into shape.  This I found a heavy piece of work, but I threw my whole energy into it, foreseeing in it a powerful instrumentality in the diffusion of a knowledge of the truth.  What I did amounted to a complete writing of the work.  I planned the distribution of the subjects; wrote all the propositions; arranged all the passages that my most pleasant friend had cut out, and the footnotes which he had industriously collected, and, in a word, gave structure and character to the work.  When it was finished, I found myself in a peculiar position.  I had advertised it as my friend’s work and it was not his work.  I did not think there was any difficulty about this, since a simple statement that it was a joint production would put the matter right.  I proposed to my most pleasant friend that this statement should be made –and made in the mildest form, namely, that the pamphlet was by him and revised by me.  I never imagined there could be any difficulty about this.  The claims of truth required it, and knowing the malice that was at work against me, I feared the use that might be made of my allowing a work to go forth as the production of a liberal friend who had only collected the materials for it.


But, lo, my innocent suggestion was the application of a lighted match to gunpowder.  I felt covered with shame; for the question of authorship in any honorary sense was nothing to me one way or other.  I was simply aiming at truth and the service of the truth, and felt utterly humiliated to have to enter upon a contest in which I had to defend myself from a charge of seeking to rob another of his proper honour.  If the pamphlet had not been actually in print, and ordered in hundreds by expectant readers, I would have retired from the dispute, and left each man to take his own way.  As the matter stood, it had to be argued and settled.


A conference of friends was brought to bear, and it was ultimately decided that the dilemma should be composed by issuing the pamphlet anonymously.  A line in The Ambassador, stating in the fewest possible words that the pamphlet had been revised by me, put me right with regard to previous advertisements.  Since then (twenty-seven years ago) the Declaration has circulated in thousands and thousands of copies, and remains to this day the most largely circulating publication connected with the truth.  The rupture cause by this incident was one of many deep wounds that have had to be suffered in the course of the service of the truth –a course which, so far as I am concerned, I have reason to hope is nearly “finished.”


On June 21st, 1867, it was resolved to circulate the Declaration among the clergy and ministers of Birmingham and neighbourhood –not with any hope of opening their eyes, but with the idea that the simultaneous presentation to them of such a concentrated exhibition of the truth might lead them to talk about the truth, and perhaps oppose it, and thus do it the only service in their power.  I cannot remember that any results ever came of the effort.  If I was unsanguine then (as appears by the note appearing in The Ambassador for 1867, page 178) I would be a hundred times more so now.


The clergy are spoiled men in the making so far as divine things are concerned.  They are manufactured to a pattern, and by a process that does not make a man, even in a natural sense.  It requires hardship and not coddling; bad usage and not the worship offered to a god; stern experience and not rose-water theory to make out of human nature the sort of character required for the acceptable service of God and man.  When, in addition to the absence of these, there is an absence of the robust truth of God and the overpowering presence of emasculating fable, there is nothing to be expected but the universal puff-blown abortiveness we see in the ranks of the false prophetism of every name and denomination.  A similar state of things in Israel was blown to perdition in a tempest of red-hot anger such as the world had never seen; and no other fate awaits the hierarchies of Christendom at the coming of Him whose name they have travestied, and who word they have made a laughingstock throughout the world.


About this time we had a surprising secession from out little company: namely, one who had made himself very prominent in all our little efforts, and who was quite a lovable and amusing character in his way.  We used to say among ourselves that it was impossible for anyone who once saw the truth to go back to any of the sects.   This was a pleasing delusion based upon a too limited experience, which a more extended experience has effectually put an end to.  All depends upon the person.  There are those who could no more be moved away from the requirement of divine truth than the sun can be stopped in its course.  But there are others who can be so moved when the opposing force of whatever description gets above the level of the feeble power that holds them.  Jesus recognizes such in his parable of the sower: “these having no root in themselves, for a while believe, and in time of trial fall away.”  The trial takes various forms.  In our day it is not public persecution, but various vexing circumstances permitted to arise, without or within, and especially within (for circumstances “without” have little power to vex).


Our lovable and amusing friend was fond of public work, but was not fit for it; and because he was not allowed the amount of it that was to his liking he cooled off and left us, and attended the “services” of George Dawson, M.A., whom we find described in the intelligence note of June, 1867 (page 154) as “a quasi-clerical lecturer of the humorous sort, who is popular in Birmingham and throughout the country for his power to entertain the fleshly mind;  who, after the Colenso school, pretends to be a preacher of Christ while denying Moses and the prophets and (in a manner peculiar to himself) devises the understanding through the sheer force of dogmatic sarcasm; appearing to teach wisdom, while in reality inculcating principles that lead the ignorant into certain paths of destruction, or rather, make their escape from those paths a matter of impossibility.


Our amusing friend did not stay long with Mr. Dawson, but taking flight from Birmingham, settled among the Dowieites in Edinburgh –with whom, however, he did not long stay, but wafted his way southward and disappeared in the human jungle of the metropolis.  Once only has he since come to light –on the occasion of my encounter with Mr. Hine.  He effusively greeted me on that occasion, and was in high feather at having introduced in London the system of “repairs while you wait.”  Poor fellow!  It will be nothing but a gladness to me to find at last the God has a niche for him in the Kingdom.


Towards the close of 1867, we made several changes in matters of ecclesial work.  Till then, our immersions had been performed with difficulty.  The authorities would not allow the use of the Public Baths; and we were obliged to use a private bath in the upper room of a barber’s shop in Summer Lane, where the roof was low, the apartment small, and the bath of pinched dimensions.  Having now the lease of the Athenaeum Hall (since transformed into offices), combining our contributions we introduced a proper immersion bath in front of the platform, and forming the table for the breaking of bread; providing a retiring room by putting up curtains on a light iron frame, which could be taken down.  The obedience of the truth in baptism was, after this, no longer done in a corner, but became part of the public work of the truth at our week-night meetings –which has ever since continued to be the practice.


At this time also we saw the advisability of making a change in our mode of procedure with regard to business.  We have been in the habit of bringing matters of business before the whole meeting, either on Sunday or Thursday.  This gave undue prominence to casual and ephemeral matters and cause the diversion of the general mind from matters that ought to be paramount.  This was the more strongly felt to be an evil as our numbers increased.  Business was more and more an unwelcome intrusion at our ordinary meetings, so we resolved at a special meeting, held October 16th, 1867, that no business beyond necessary announcements be introduced at any of the ordinary meetings, and that seven brethren be appointed to transact all the secular business of the ecclesia, in conjunction with the secretary and treasurer, subject to the control of the ecclesia in quarterly meeting assembled;  the meetings of these managing brethren to be held on week-nights, and to be open to the attendance of any brother or sister who might choose to attend, but only the managing brethren to vote.  –The first act of the newly-constituted managing body was to decide upon the delivery of several courses of hearers could be reached on week-nights who could not be got at on Sundays.  The first course was immediately advertised as follows: --

1.        Christianity in the first and nineteenth centuries; the Apostles and their predictions: a parallel, a contrast, and a fulfillment.

2.         The connection between prophecy and the primitive Gospel; modern preaching lacking in the main element of Gospel truth.

3.         The re-establishment of the ancient theocracy of the Jews under Christ’s personal administration, the appointed remedy for the world’s afflictions.

4.        The existing state of the world indicative of the approaching close of the present dispensation.

5.        The New Testament doctrine of eternal life subversive of popular views of immortality and a future state.

6.        Personal duty in the present crisis.


The meetings were a great success.

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