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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nelson N. Barbour


"Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased."

VOL. XI. --- NO. 14. CHICAGO, NOVERMBER 11, 1873 WHOLE NO. 497


For about fourteen years I have been looking for the Lord to come in 1873. And to me the arguments have seemed unanswerable. The first month and the seventh month were the only two periods in the year to which I could look. These are passed; hence my hope, or rather expectation, of seeing the Lord this year is at an end.

The advice of one brother is, "Give up this subject and preach the age to come." Another, (Free Methodist,) says, "Come with us and preach salvation." And yet another, "Give up the investigation of the prophetic periods and preach His coming near." Thus each is doing his part to give force to the proverb, "The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth," and to discourage future investigation. But notwithstanding all this I am still enforcing the 1873 arguments with more faith and a greater zeal than ever, though I do not expect the Lord until the seventh month of 1874. This may seem a paradox, but I have a reason for my position which is more satisfactory, for it adds immensely to the strength of all the arguments.

If I can show that God claims, when it so pleases Him, to call it 1335 days until it is 1336, or 1335 when it is only 1334 and a fraction, I shall have shown that though the periods pointing to the end are revealed and therefore "belong to us and our children;" yet God may have reserved a fraction of time in His own power, to be made known in His way, without invalidating the reliability of the periods revealed to His holy prophets, or our correct understanding of those periods.

What God does once, he may do again. In other words, a precedent of His own is a safe position on which to base a future calculation, and there are just two periods of time in which He has used this liberty.

"David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years." "Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem."

One of these statements is made three and the other five times in God's word, as if to enforce the idea that there is no mistake. And yet the facts are that Zedekiah reigned only ten years three months and nine days. (See Jer. 52:1-12,) while David reigned forty years and six months. (See 2 Sam. 5:5)

Now, suppose instead of a statement, these had been prophetic periods. "David shall reign forty years, at the end of which special event will transpire." The people wait anxiously; the forty years end, and the promised event does not come. The vision has failed, and God is slack concerning His promises, would be the natural conclusion. Again, they wait in fear of a threatened judgment. "Zedekiah shall reign eleven years in Jerusalem, and then the city shall be taken captive. (See Jer. 1:3.) Ten years pass, and while they feel confident of another year, God cuts it short, "And it came to pass in the fourth month and the ninth day of the month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the city was taken." Shall the clay say to the potter what doest thou?

God has given just these two precedents, from which some men reason that all definite time in the Bible is loosely stated, and inaccurate. I do not so reason, but believe they were given for a special purpose. If the time had overrun one whole year the statement would have been as false in spirit, as though it had come short that much.

These two periods teach us that when God pleases to shorten or lengthen a given time He may so do, within certain limits, without invalidating the spirit of the word.

The 1260 days of Papal dominion fell short about a year.

From the best authority we can find the abomination was not "set up," viz: The providences of Italy, or civil powers, did not declare in favor of the Catholic party until near the close of 538 (I have always taught that the "woman" [Rev. 17] who had the name "Abominations" on her forehead, and was drunken with the blood of the saints, was "the abomination that maketh desolate;" and that she was "set up" when she took her seat on the beast, that the "seat" was Rome, the seat of the dragon, and that she took her seat when the civil power, or province of Italy changed their allegiance from the Arian to the Catholic party.) The Goths were expelled from the main part of Italy in the month of March, but the provinces which Gibbon tells us had afterwards embraced the faith of the Emperor, could not have organized and changed their allegiance without consuming time.

From the Autumn, of 538 to the 15th of February 1798, when the Roman republic was declared, was only 1259 years and a fraction. Thus the period of oppression on his church was cut short almost a year.

The 1335 days began when the abomination was "set up" near the end of 538; hence they end near the close of 1873. But the time to which we can look for our High Priest to leave the holy place in 1873 is passed.

From near the close of 1873 to the seventh month of 1874 is only a fraction of a year. This fraction, I am satisfied, from all the jots and tittles God will appropriate.

No negative is ever advanced until there has been an affirmative. And Peter declares, "That God is no slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish; but the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night." Now God has given a precedent for us to call it 1335 days until it is a large fraction over that: and we know he is long suffering, and there is to be a proverb in the land, "that the days are prolonged and every vision faileth," and some men will say that God is slack concerning his promises in relation to the event, so that faith will be almost extinguished when the Son of man cometh, and certain servants will say "my Lord delays his coming;" and bringing it about in this way gives that class of servants such a good opportunity to smite such fellow servants, and thus try to faith of those who endure to the end; in view of these things I believe God will "spare the tree this year also, and after that thou shalt cut it down."


Bruce W. Schulz and Rachael De Vienne: Nelson Barbour: The Millennium's Forgotten Prophet, 2009.

Nelson Horatio Barbour was born in Throopsville, New York, August 21, 1824, and died in Tacoma, Washington, September 1, 1905. He is best known for his association with and later opposition to Charles Taze Russell.

Barbour was the son of David Barbour and the grandson of Friend Barbour. Both the family and official documents use the spelling "Barbour" and its alternative spelling "Barber."

He was related to a number of prominent New Yorkers including Dio Lewis. He attended Temple Hill Academy from 1839-1842. While at Temple Hill he also studied for the Methodist Episcopal ministry with an Elder Ferris, probably William H. Ferris.

Barbour was introduced to Millerism through the efforts of a Mr. Johnson who lectured at Geneseo, New York, in the winter of 1842. Barbour associated with other Millerites living in that area. These included Owen Crozier, William Marsh, and Daniel Cogswell. Cogswell would become a life-long friend as would Henry F. Hill. Cogswell would go on to become president of the New York Conference of the Advent Christian Church. Hill would become a prominent author associated with the Evangelical Adventists.

Adventists in the Geneseo area met in Springwater to await the second coming in 1843. Their disappointment was profound, and Barbour suffered a crisis of faith. Later, he would write: “We held together until the autumn of 1844. Then, as if a raft floating in deep water should suddenly disappear from under its living burden, so our platform went from under us, and we made for shore in every direction; but our unity was gone, and, like drowning men, we caught at straws.” [Barbour, N. H.: Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873, Or the Midnight Cry, 1871, page 26.]

Barbour abandoned his faith. He pursued a medical career, becoming a Medical Electrician, a therapist who treated disease through the application of electric current. It was seen as a valid therapy in those days.

He left for Australia to prospect for Gold, returning via London in 1859. There is some evidence that he preached on occasion while in Australia. A ship-board discussion with a clergyman reactivated his interest in Bible prophecy. He consulted books on prophetic themes at the British Library and became convinced that 1873 would mark the return of Christ. This was not a new speculation but had been advanced by others at least as early as 1823.

Returning to the United States, Barbour settled in New York City, continuing his studies in the Astor Library. When fully convinced he wrote letters and visited those whom he felt might best spread the message. Few were interested.

Barbour became an inventor and associated with Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union. He patented several inventions. By 1863 he was in medical practice, dividing his time between Auburn and Rochester, New York. He returned to London in 1864 to demonstrate one of his inventions. He used his association with other inventors and scientists to spread his end-times doctrine, and some of his earliest associates in that belief were inventors and physicians.

He published something as early as 1867, though it has been lost. In 1871 he wrote and published a small book entitled Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873, or The Midnight Cry. It quickly went through two printings and articles by him started appearing in the Second Adventist press, notably the World’s Crisis.

A significant movement advocating 1873 grew up, though it was divided into several parties. Jonas Wendell lead one; another centered on the magazine The Watchman’s Cry, and the rest associated most closely with Barbour. British Barbourites were represented by Elias H. Tuckett, a clergyman.

Many gathered at Terry Island to await the return of Christ in late 1873. Christ failed to return and the group dissolved. Barbour and others looked to the next year. That proved a disappointment too.

Led by Benjamin W. Keith, an associate of Barbour’s since 1867, the group took up the common belief in a two-stage, initially invisible presence. They believed that Christ had indeed come in 1874 and would soon become visible for judgments. Barbour started a magazine in 1874 to promote his views, calling it The Midnight Cry. He quickly changed the name to Herald of the Morning. After announcing the invisible presence doctrine, the group dwindled into insignificance.

In December 1875 Charles Taze Russell, a businessman from Allegheny, received a copy of The Herald of the Morning. He met the principals in the Barbourite movement and arranged for Barbour to speak in Philadelphia in 1876. Barbour and Russell associated together until 1878 when they parted ways over conflicting views on Ransom and Atonement doctrine.

During their association Barbour wrote the book Three Worlds or Plan of Redemption (1877) and published a small booklet by Russell entitled Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return.

By 1883 Barbour abandoned belief in an invisible presence and returned to more standard Adventist doctrine. He had organized a small congregation in Rochester in 1873, and by 1878 he was in better quarters. He changed the name of the congregation to Church of the Strangers. In later years the congregation would associate with the Church of the Blessed Hope and call themselves Restitutionists.

Barbour continued the Herald of the Morning, though with breaks, until at least 1903, occasionally issuing statements critical of C. T. Russell. He wrote favorably though cautiously that he was persuaded 1896 was the date for Christ's visible return. This wasn't original with him, but grew out of the Advent Christian Church. The last date set by Barbour for Christ’s return was 1907.

By the time of his death the Rochester church numbered about fifty and there was very minor interest elsewhere. In 1903 Barbour participated in a conference on Mob Spirit in America. He advocated the establishment of a predominately black state in the American south west.

Barbour died while on a trip to the west in 1905 of “exhaustion.”

After his death some of his articles from The Herald of the Morning were collected and published in book form as Washed in His Blood (1908).

Material for this article is derived from:

B. W. Schulz and Rachael De Vienne: Nelson Barbour: The Millennium's Forgotten Prophet, 2009.

B. W. Schulz and Rachael De Vienne: Nelson Barbour: The Time-ists Last Breath, Journal From the Radical Reformation, Spring 2008, page 54ff. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Harvest Gatherings and Siftings"

During this time, too, we came to recognize the difference between our Lord as "the man who gave himself," and as the Lord who would come again, a spirit being. We saw that spirit-beings can be present, and yet invisible to men, just as we still hold and have set forth in MILLENNIAL DAWN, Vol. II., Chap. 5. And we felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of his coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed his coming Kingdom.

These wrong views so generally held of both the object and manner of the Lord's return led me to write a pamphlet--"The Object and Manner of The Lord's Return," of which some 50,000 copies were published.

It was about January, 1876, that my attention was specially drawn to the subject of prophetic time, as it relates to these doctrines and hopes. It came about in this way: I received a paper called The Herald of the Morning, sent by its editor, Mr. N. H. Barbour. When I opened it I at once identified it with Adventism from the picture on its cover, and examined it with some curiosity to see what time they would next set for the burning of the world. But judge of my surprise and gratification, when I learned from its contents that the Editor was beginning to get his eyes open on the subjects that for some years had so greatly rejoiced our hearts here in Allegheny--that the object of our Lord's return is not to destroy, but to bless all the families of the earth, and that his coming would be thief-like, and not in flesh, but as a spirit-being, invisible to men; and that the gathering of his Church and the separation of the "wheat" from the "tares" would progress in the end of this age without the world's being aware of it.

I rejoiced to find others coming to the same advanced position, but was astonished to find the statement very cautiously set forth, that the editor believed the prophecies to indicate that the Lord was already present in the world (unseen and invisible), and that the harvest work of gathering the wheat was already due,--and that this view was warranted by the time-prophecies which but a few months before he supposed had failed.

Here was a new thought: Could it be that the time prophecies which I had so long despised, because of their misuse by Adventists, were really meant to indicate when the Lord would be invisibly present to set up his Kingdom --a thing which I clearly saw could be known in no other way? It seemed, to say the least, a reasonable, a very reasonable thing, to expect that the Lord would inform his people on the subject--especially as he had promised that the faithful should not be left in darkness with the world, and that though the day of the Lord would come upon all others as a thief in the night (stealthily, unawares), it should not be so to the watching, earnest saints.--`I Thes. 5:4`.

I recalled certain arguments used by my friend Jonas Wendell and other Adventists to prove that 1873 would witness the burning of the world, etc.--the chronology of the world showing that the six thousand years from Adam ended with the beginning of 1873--and other arguments drawn from the Scriptures and supposed to coincide. Could it be that these time arguments, which I had passed by as unworthy of attention, really contained an important truth which they had misapplied?

Anxious to learn, from any quarter, whatever God had to teach, I at once wrote to Mr. Barbour, informing him of my harmony on other points and desiring to know particularly why, and upon what Scriptural evidences, he held that Christ's presence and the harvesting of the Gospel age dated from the Autumn of 1874. The answer showed that my surmise had been correct, viz.: that the time arguments, chronology, etc., were the same as used by Second Adventists in 1873, and explained how Mr. Barbour and Mr. J. H. Paton, of Michigan, a co-worker with him, had been regular Second Adventists up to that time; and that when the date 1874 had passed without the world being burned, and without their seeing Christ in the flesh, they were for a time dumb-founded. They had examined the time-prophecies that had seemingly passed unfulfilled, and had been unable to find any flaw, and had begun to wonder whether the time was right and their expectations wrong,--whether the views of restitution and blessing to the world, which myself and others were teaching, might not be the things to look for. It seems that not long after their 1874 disappointment, a reader of the Herald of the Morning, who had a copy of the Diaglott, noticed something in it which he thought peculiar,--that in `Matt. 24:27,37,39`, the word which in our common version is rendered coming is translated presence. This was the clue; and, following it, they had been led through prophetic time toward proper views regarding the object and manner of the Lord's return. I, on the contrary, was led first to proper views of the object and manner of our Lord's return and then to the examination of the time for these things, indicated in God's Word. Thus God leads his children often from different starting points of truth; but where the heart is earnest and trustful, the result must be to draw all such together.

But there were no books or other publications setting forth the time-prophecies as then understood, so I paid Mr. Barbour's expenses to come to see me at Philadelphia (where I had business engagements during the summer of 1876), to show me fully and Scripturally, if he could, that the prophecies indicated 1874 as the date at which the Lord's presence and "the harvest" began. He came, and the evidences satisfied me. Being a person of positive convictions and fully consecrated to the Lord, I at once saw that the special times in which we live have an important bearing upon our duty and work as Christ's disciples; that, being in the time of harvest, the harvest-work should be done; and that Present Truth was the sickle by which the Lord would have us do a gathering and reaping work everywhere among his children.

I inquired of Mr. Barbour as to what was being done by him and by the Herald. He replied that nothing was being done; that the readers of the Herald, being disappointed Adventists, had nearly all lost interest and stopped their subscriptions;--and that thus, with money exhausted, the Herald might be said to be practically suspended. I told him that instead of feeling discouraged and giving up the work since his newly found light on restitution (for when we first met, he had much to learn from me on the fulness of restitution based upon the sufficiency of the ransom given for all, as I had much to learn from him concerning time), he should rather feel that now he had some good tidings to preach, such as he never had before, and that his zeal should be correspondingly increased. At the same time, the knowledge of the fact that we were already in the harvest period gave to me an impetus to spread the Truth such as I never had before. I therefore at once resolved upon a vigorous campaign for the Truth.

I determined to curtail my business cares and give my time as well as means to the great harvest work. Accordingly, I sent Mr. Barbour back to his home, with money and instructions to prepare in concise book-form the good tidings so far as then understood, including the time features, while I closed out my Philadelphia business preparatory to engaging in the work, as I afterward did, traveling and preaching.

The little book of 196 pages thus prepared was entitled The Three Worlds; and as I was enabled to give some time and thought to its preparation it was issued by us both jointly, both names appearing on its title page--though it was mainly written by Mr. Barbour. While it was not the first book to teach a measure of restitution, nor the first to treat upon time-prophecy, it was, we believe, the first to combine the idea of restitution with time-prophecy. From the sale of this book and from my purse, our traveling expenses, etc., were met. After a time I conceived the idea of adding another harvest laborer and sent for Mr. Paton, who promptly responded and whose traveling expenses were met in the same manner.

But noticing how quickly people seemed to forget what they had heard, it soon became evident that while the meetings were useful in awakening interest, a monthly journal was needed to hold that interest and develop it. It therefore seemed to be the Lord's will that one of our number should settle somewhere and begin again the regular issuing of the Herald of the Morning. I suggested that Mr. Barbour do this, as he had experience as a type-setter and could therefore do it most economically, while Mr. Paton and I would continue to travel and contribute to its columns as we should find opportunity. To the objection that the type was not sold, and that the few subscriptions which would come in would not, for a long time, make the journal self-sustaining, I replied that I would supply the money for purchasing type, etc., and leave a few hundred dollars in bank subject to Mr. Barbour's check, and that he should manage it as economically as possible, while Mr. Paton and I continued to travel. This, which seemed to be the Lord's will in the matter, was done.

- Published by Pastor Russell, July 15, 1906 Zion's Watch Tower