His Days and His Ways
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: After Dr. Thomas’ Death: “Renunciationism”
“MY DAYS AND MY WAYS,” an autobiography, ended with Chapter thirty-six; what follows is by “a latter hand.” The autobiography originally ran through three volumes of Good Company, a magazine edited by the deceased from 1890-1894, when it expired. The volumes have for a long time been out of print. But though the magazine in question died then, the author of the foregoing survived for four years more, dying in 1898; so that there remain twenty-seven years of “his days and his ways” to be accounted for –“few and evil days,” as he was wont to say, taking up the words of Jacob before Pharaoh (Gen. 47:9) without the least trace of affectation.
The writer of this “Appendix” bespeaks the forbearance of the few in the land of the living who may be affected by anything he may say concerning the controversies that have arisen since the death of Dr. Thomas. His aim is rather to illustrate the ways of Providence in the modern contention for and keeping of the truth, than to propitiate or offend individuals.
Taking up the thread of the autobiography, or looking back a little perhaps, we find ourselves in interesting time (1870). The magazine gave brother Roberts a good vehicle for the testimony of the truth, and he was not slow to make the best use he could of it. A certain Dr. Angus, President of the Baptist College, London, published three letters in The Christian World in defense of the now almost obsolete doctrine of “Eternal Torments”. The editor of The Christadelphian replied to these in October, November, and December, in a series of articles, afterwards published in pamphlet form under the title Everlasting Punishment not Eternal Torments. The pamphlet is still current.
The final fall of the Temporal Power of the Papacy occurred in September, 1870, and it has been remarked as a matter of surprise by some that it did not attract more attention and comment in the magazine. The reason doubtless is that it was overshadowed by the apparently greater event of the overthrow of the French Empire in the Franco-Prussian war. And time is needed to see world-events in their true perspective. Not that the matter was unnoticed –far from it, but it was more clearly understood and expounded in after years.
Among the activities of this time we notice the establishment of The Christadelphian Children’s Magazine (Sept., 1871), a third series of which has just come to an end, due, among other things to the war conditions at present prevailing. It was a very small affair in those days, but none the less valuable on its own scale. As to illustrations –photo process blocks were unknown, and the woodcuts were rather erratic in their appearance, and a serio-comic element sometimes obtruded itself in the puzzle pictures. But the children loved their magazine; and they were certainly helped by it to love their Bibles and to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, which was the whole aim and object of the enterprise.
The little community whose proportions stirred the contempt of David King, as aforesaid, kept growing, and some statistics in July, 1872, tell us that there were throughout the world 299 additions to the numbers in the year 1871-2.
By-and-by these statistics were dropped, as it was realised that mere numbers meant nothing in view of the Lord’s sayings about “many called, few chosen”; and it was also felt that the incident of David’s numbering Israel, rightly regarded, was a deterrent. So from that day to this no statistics have been complied. Now, in the United Kingdom, the national necessity compels the numbering of the young men –“all that are able to go forth to war” (Num. 1:3). We notice that whereas the Law of Moses (which is the Law of God –Mal. 4:4; Num. 1:1) fixes the age at “twenty years old and upward,” the British Government fixes it at eighteen years old and upward. By the way, a Jew recently pleaded the Law which says, “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, …but he shall be free at home one year; and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deut. 24:5). But the Tribunal did not admit the plea! How much better is the Law of God in Israel than the law of man in Britain! But we are digressing.
“The Fraternal Gathering” of 1872 is the next event that arrests our attention. It was held in Birmingham on August 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th, and is reported fully in a 76 page double number of The Christadelphian, the report subsequently appearing as a separate pamphlet under the title of “The Meaning of the Christadelphian Movement.”
The first meeting was in the Athenaeum of the Saturday evening. Brother Turner presided, and delivered an address of welcome to the assembled visitors from over thirty places all over the country. Brethren Shuttleworth, Meakin, Whitcomb, Smith, Townsend, and Roberts followed with words of welcome, and brethren Bosher and Andrew, both of London, responded for the visitors. The proceedings were introduced and concluded with singing and prayer.
On the Sunday morning there was a large meeting (over 300) in the Temperance Hall for the Breaking of Bread. The order observed was almost exactly that which still remains. Brother Bosher presided; and he, together with others, addressed the meeting in exhortation. Among these were brethren Handley (of Maldon), Smith (of Edinburgh), J.J. Andrew (of London), Ellis (of Liverpool), and Roberts (Birmingham). In the evening there was a lecture by brother E. Turney (of Nottingham) on “An Understanding of the Bible the Great Want of the Age,” followed by another by brother Roberts (Birmingham) on “The Divine Solution of the Problems of the Day.”
On Monday, August 12th, there was a meeting in the Athenaeum in the morning at which various brethren spoke, as brethren Bosher, Andrew (both of London), Butler (Birmingham), Bannister (Derby), D. Clement (Mumbles), Yardley (Leicester), W. Clement (Mumbles), Dashper (Devonport), Dun (Birmingham), and Ellis (of Liverpool). In the evening there was a meeting in the Temperance Hall, the Athenaeum proving inadequate for the accommodation of those present.
On Tuesday there was a muster at the Athenaeum and a railway journey to Olton to Dr. Thomas’ house, which he did not live to occupy. Here a tent was erected in the grounds, and lunch was provided. The company were photographed, the report telling us with delightful naivete that “the portraits are recognisable.” We can bear witness to the truth of this, having only recently come across an old faded copy of the picture, and “recognising” several (though the figures are small). Forty-four years have sadly thinned the ranks. There are not many survivors now. There were more meetings, both at Olton and in the Temperance Hall in the evening. Among the names of the speakers we notice one who subsequently “went over to Rome”, and others who have led controversies against the truth. But some have “kept the faith.” And nearly all have now “gone the way of all the earth.” The gathering was a great success.
Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, a biography which began, as the Doctor smilingly complained, before he was dead, was announced in January, 1873, and was announced as “Now Ready” in August. Although rather heavy in parts, it is an interesting narrative, and “illustrative,” as the author says, “of the process by which the truth has been extricated in modern times from the obscuration of Romish and Protestant tradition.” It contained a good steel engraved portrait of Dr. Thomas, but the block, a costly one, has vanished during the forty years’ wanderings in the wilderness. The book is still in active circulation.
Just at this time (June, 1873) there arose “the Renunciationist Controversy,” which threatened to undo Dr. Thomas’ work with regard to a vital element of divine truth. It concerned the nature of Christ, his relation to Adam and humanity, and the nature of his sacrifice for sins. Edward Turney, of Nottingham, who had figured prominently at the Fraternal Gathering, issued in eight-page pamphlet form a series of “Thirty-two Questions and Answers concerning Jesus Christ.” He acknowledged his indebtedness for the ideas put forth to David Handley, of Maldon, who also took part at the gathering. The first lines of the concluding paragraph of this pamphlet ran as follows: --
“BRETHREN AND FRIENDS, -- Whatever I have taught by mouth or pen contrary to the views
of Jesus Christ herein set forth, I NOW RENOUNCE.”
Whence have arisen the uncouth technicalities “Renunciationist” and “Renunciationism.” Unhappily the things “renounced” were true, and the things espoused were fables. These really and truly amounted to a phase of the old Gnostic heresies, the germs of which troubled the apostles themselves –especially John, who is very severe on men who “confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (I John 4:3), and who thus manifest “the spirit of antichrist.”
Brother T. excluded Jesus from “Adam’s posterity” by defining that phrase to mean “Every human being who has been born of two human parents” (Quest. and Ans. No. 9). An “essential difference” was alleged to exist between “Jesus and the posterity of Adam” (Quest. 11). So much so that “Jesus Christ was not a son of Adam” (Quest. 13). It was alleged that “God gave life to Jesus direct from Himself, as he did to Adam” (Quest 18), (another palpable untruth), and that in consequence “the body of Christ was not under condemnation” (Quest. 19) but possessed a free, unforfeited life. Consequently it was alleged that Christ himself was not redeemed by his own sacrifice (Questions 24, 27) and “might himself alone have entered into possession of life eternal”! And many other similar statements were made. These things were laid before the brethren in a lecture in the Temperance Hall on July 28th, 1873, and the next night brother Roberts delivered a reply lecture on “The Slain Lamb,” in which the true doctrine of the nature and sacrifice of Christ were set forth. This lecture is still current in pamphlet form, a few of the personalities of so long ago having been eliminated as unworthy of perpetuation. It is, of course, controversial; a more simple and expository setting forth of the matter appearing in another pamphlet by the same author entitled, The Blood of Christ.
The controversy produced the usual crop of pamphlets, and bitternesses and separations, the echoes of which even now have not quite died away; but it was productive of a much better understanding of the purpose of God in Christ. A rival magazine was started in opposition to The Christadelphian, but if flickered out after a few years, and with the death of Edward Turney in 1879 the movement subsided. The doctrines advanced by “renunciationism” are being revived with embellishments by the “Russellite” movement of the present day; but it is only just to the memory of Edward Turney to exonerate him from anything quite so monstrous as the late “Pastor” Russell’s doctrine of “ransom.”
The work and worry entailed by this controversy brought on a severe illness, necessitating recuperation at a hydropathic establishment. From this seclusion, however, brother Roberts contributed to the magazine, dictating one article in particular to an amanuensis on “Twenty-one Years’ Waiting and Watching, and at it still” (November 1873). This was an interesting review of the progress of the world during the period in question towards the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It covered the career of Louis Napoleon; the Crimean check on Russian aggression; the overthrow of Austria by Prussia; the fall of the French Empire; the fall of the Temporal Power of the Papacy; and the beginnings of the Jewish movement for Restoration. Prophecy had been fulfilled and was fulfilling, and notwithstanding all troubles and controversies, there was good hope of speedy deliverance.
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