George Storrs: Enigmatic and Ambivalent Polarizer of Adventism
Original text by Richard Martin Rawe – Edited by Barbara Anderson
No person in mid-nineteenth century Evangelical Adventism had a greater impact on that movement and its resultant twentieth-century counterparts than George Storrs.
This essay will focus especially on the views espoused by Storrs concerning the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennium associated with this event, and the major respects in which his views differed from those of others during this period.
It will also try to show that underlying these specific differences in millenarian and eschatological doctrine, were a number of more fundamental differences relating to broader “theological” issues, such as the attributes of God, the redemptive role of Christ, the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, hellfire, and other “theological” matters. The essay will also briefly examine the position of Storrs on several issues relating to the “organizational” side of the Christian enterprise, trying to show that Storrs was a champion of freedom in the area of church organization just as he was a bold seeker of truth.
This man’s views dramatically affected the course of several major religious groups and lives of many millions of people. Among those especially impacted undoubtedly were Seventh-Day Adventists, Advent Christians, Bible Students (known as Jehovah’s Witnesses today), various “Church of God’ groups and, yes, even many of those evangelical groups who hold to the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation, rapture concepts.
Born December 13, 1796 in Lebanon, New Hampshire, U.S.A., George Storrs was 83-years and 15 days old when he passed away on December 28, 1879 at Brooklyn, New York.
Being deeply religious from youth on—as a child, Storrs’ mother carefully inculcated Calvinistic concepts in his mind—he spent much time, thought and consideration on religious matters. At about 18-years old, he committed himself to the Lord and at 19 he united with the Congregational Church. Storrs’ married his first wife when he was around 23. She died about 6 years later after a long sickness. During this trial some time, he was befriended by a Methodist minister who gave both of them much comfort. Subsequently, in 1825, at the age of 29, Storrs joined the Methodist Traveling Connection. That same year he married Miss Martha Waterman and continued to travel until 1836 when he took the position of a local preacher. For three years he spent most of his time traveling and preaching against slavery when at this time, the whole Methodist Episcopal Church was hostile to the subject, especially were the Bishops of the Church opposed to it. As a result of this conflict with the bishops, in 1840, Storrs withdrew entirely from the M. E. Church. It was during this period that he gradually came to his first great discovery of what he considered to be “truth,” namely, that “INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY was the true ground to occupy, and he could not submit to leave his responsibility in the hands of bishops, nor any body of men, however good they might be… [He had] a deep conviction that his responsibility was to God ALONE.”
In other words, Storrs would no longer submit to an ORGANIZED religious body which considered itself superior to HIS conscience and would attempt to restrict him in the free exercise of determining what was truth and the preaching of it as his duty to God. Originally, this had to do with the issue of slavery, but he soon applied the principle to all doctrines. In this, he was truly reciprocal, as he would fellowship with any who had a desire to have a Christian CHARACTER regardless of what their theology might be.
Just prior to this, in 1837, Storrs came across an anonymous tract which he later found to have been written by Henry Grew. It called into question the doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul and of the endless suffering of sinners. In 1841, after four years of careful study and research, he began to preach and publish Grew’s views (now his own) on the subjects. Eventually, Storrs wrote his famous “Six Sermons,” first published in early 1842, which became the largest circulated booklet of the time on religious matters, about 200,000 copies). It was chiefly through his extensive personal preaching that the “Six Sermons” and other publications of his that Storrs became so influential.
It was in the spring of 1842 that Storrs heard of the views of William Miller and was partially convinced. He invited the noted Charles Fitch, formerly a Congregational minister, who had embraced Miller’s ideas, to come to Albany, N.Y., to preach on the subject. In this way George Storrs became fully convinced that in 1844, Jesus Christ would return bringing with him a fiery end to the world and to all those who would not accept William Miller’s beliefs.
The time prophecies which the Millerites preached were a new and astounding revelation to the vast majority of church-goers. For the next three months, Storrs preached far and wide the new and novel doctrine of time prophecies. While not actively promoting his views on hell and the soul, he did privately discuss them with any who inquired. However, when the main Millerite organ named the Signs of the Times, published in Boston, Massachusetts, came out against these views, Storrs felt that he could not keep silent and produced and distributed several thousand copies of his Six Sermons. The mass publication of this booklet eventually resulted in thousands of ministers and lay people accepting these views. Thus Storrs came to be a major instrument in Second Adventists accepting these two doctrines, which they have embraced down till today.
After fully embracing Miller’s views for a period of only three months, Storrs made another shift in his concepts, this time as regards his world-view milieu. During the winter of 1842-43, he came to the conclusion that Miller was wrong about the world being destined to melt at Christ’s return, together with all who were not Millerites (and that being immediately followed by the creating of a “New Heavens and Earth” made from the cooled old, or previous heavens and earth with the Millerites and resurrected righteous dead living eternally here on this “New Earth”).
Storrs developed what was then referred to as the “age to come” concept where there would be a pre-tribulation rapture of the living and dead saints and that Christ would come with these saints and destroy some, even many, of earth’s inhabitants (but by no means all of them, for there would be many “left of the nations” who, together with the converted Jews, would continue to live on this earth, it not being melted by fire). Thus, Storrs’ eschatological views from 1843 to 1856 were quite similar to those later promulgated in the U.S. by John Darby from 1862-1877.
So once again Storrs can be credited with promoting views that have become generally accepted among those who consider Darby to have been the one to introduce them, and that, years ahead of Darby.
The primary purpose of George Storrs initiating his monthly magazine, Bible Examiner, in January of 1843, was to draw attention to the end of the world coming in 1844. Its secondary purpose became its primary one after the “1844 Disappointment.” That secondary purpose was to spread the “truth’ that the soul o man was not inherently immortal and therefore did not suffer in a fiery hell after the death of the body. These views were eventually adopted by almost all surviving Second Adventist groups and those related to them. Truthfully, Storrs was the prime mover behind all the groups’ adoption of these views.
Another (neo-) view of Storrs that was eventually universally adopted was regarding the setting of a date for Christ’s Second Coming. As Isaac C. Wellcome, a leading historian of the Advent Christian Church, describes it: “Mr. Storrs possessed more than ordinary ability as a speaker and writer, with much zeal and activity, yet being subject to extremes he became over-heated in his zeal, and adopted extraordinary and unwise measures in the “time movement,” which he afterwards heartily confessed with regrets, and took a separate position, distinct from the Second Advent Body, though retaining his faith in the pre-millennial, personal and soon coming of our glorious Lord.”
Storrs’ “separate position” was that the 1844 movement was neither of God nor of the Devil, but was man’s self-induced mesmerism, or delusion, based on his great desire to see Christ return and put an end to all suffering. Storrs states his position this way: “this journal was begun—in obedience to what I surely believe to have been a divine impulse for the purpose of teaching that the evening of this dispensation is upon us… [and the] golden age is consequently at hand.”
Never again did Storrs set a date for Christ’s Second Coming. He resisted all pressure and temptation to do so. He would only say that he felt it to be “near.” Other Second Adventists, after setting many more dates and becoming disappointed, finally came to adopt Storrs’ same view.
Up to 1856 Storrs held to the commonly accepted view that the wicked would all be brought back in a bodily resurrection at the end of the 1,000 years. Having struggled with this view for several years, he changed his concept. None of the wicked would ever be resurrected, for this would not be in harmony with Jehovah’s attributes, serving no useful purpose, he concluded. The acceptance of this concept by quite a number in a few years resulted in the formation of the Life and Advent Union (not a religious organization) to promulgate this view. Storrs was its first president and editor of their magazine. The Life and Advent Union continues to hold this view.
However, in 1871, Storrs made another change in his position in this regard. While still believing that the incorrigibly wicked dead would never be resurrected, but would remain dead forever, his position was that the vast majority of mankind would all receive a resurrection (during the “ages to come” after the 1,000 year reign of Christ ended). Here they would have a full and fair opportunity to know and accept God’s “Plan of the Ages.” He doubted not that the vast majority of them would do so.
Because the board of Managers of the Life and Advent Union strongly objected to Storrs’ new views, he was forced to resign from that Union, and in September of 1871, he restarted the Bible Examiner (which he had terminated in 1863 to join the Union). Storrs continued to promote the new views down till his death in 1879. Many accepted this new, advanced position of his. Among those accepting these views, in total or in part, were such ones as George Stetson, J. H. Paton, Nelson H. Barbour and their friend and associate, Charles Taze Russell. (These believed though, that the resurrected billions would be resurrected during the Millennial reign of Christ instead of in the “ages to come” after it.) Storrs stressed the part the Ransom of Christ played in this new view of his, and also how that all this would be in fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, ‘in your seed shall all the nations of the earth will be blessed”
Since C. T. Russell came to accept a version of Storrs’ new views, these views are reflected in the beliefs of the Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses today. As Russell said: “Here I should and do gratefully mention assistance rendered by Brothers Geo. Stetson and George Storrs, the latter the editor of The Bible Examiner, both now deceased. The study of the Word of God with these dear brethren and, step by step, into greener pastures and brighter hopes for the world, though it was not until 1872, when I gained a clear view of our Lord’s work as our ransom price, that I found the strength and foundation of all hope of restitution to lie in that doctrine.”
In the final, Memorial issue of The Bible Examiner (p. 418), a reader asks, “and on whom will his [Storrs’] mantle fall? ON WHOM?” a number have tended to believe that “mantle,” or work, fell on the shoulders of C. T. Russell, the appearance of whose magazine, Zion’s Watch Tower & Herald of Christ’s Presence,” seemed to dovetail in perfectly well with the Bible Examiner’s demise.
ESCHATOLOGICAL VIEWS OF THE PERIOD
“Eschatology” means the doctrine of “last (or, final) things.” As used here, it is meant to describe the views that various ones had of the things that were to lead up to Christ’s return, the series of events that were to be viewed as the “signs of the times.” Before William Miller’s preaching on it, very little, if any, mention was made in the churches of prophecy, especially that found in the books of Daniel and Revelation. And, though these things had been discussed and written about by some for many years in Europe and England, Miller’s preaching on these things was unique and novel to most churches in the United States.
ORTHODOX, POST-MILLENNIAL VIEWS
The Catholic (and most Protestant) views were what is termed “Post-Millennial,” that is, that Christ had commissioned the Church to convert the world to Christianity and when that was accomplished (be it a hundred, or a hundred thousand, years), Christ would come and accept his Kingdom, which had been prepared for him by his active disciples. There were many variations of course—one was that Christ began his second coming in A.D. 70 and would end it upon his coming for his Kingdom when it was completed for him by his Church (as he had commanded them, Matt. 28:19, 20).
MILLERITE, EVANGELICAL VIEWS
Similar to the English Literalists, Miller gave an historical interpretation to the books of Daniel and Revelation, applying the fulfillment of them over a period of thousand of years. This has been called the “historic interpretation” The signs of Christ’s near return were interpreted as occurring over a period of nearly 100 years previous to 1844. Among these signs were the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the dark day in 1780, the French Revolution of 1789-1799, the falling stars of 1833, and the ending of the Ottoman Empire as correctly predicted to happen in 1840. All of these events confirmed in the Adventists’ mind that 1843-44 was the end of 6,000 years since Adam’s creation, the end of the “Gentile Times” and the 2300 “days,” as well as other prophetic periods mentioned in Daniel and Revelation. 1844 would also mark the return of Christ from heaven along with the burning up of the world and of all the wicked. This included persecutors and mockers. The re-gathering of the Jews to Jerusalem played no part in this eschatological scheme.
As the Millerites saw the order of events, Christ would instantaneously and miraculously burst forth to the world, with angels and trumpets blaring, on the fatal day announced. At the same instant the righteous dead would come literally out of their graves in immortalized fleshly bodies—the ones they had died with—and the righteous living (Millerites only) would in the same instant be given immortalized fleshly bodies—both being taken up into heaven instantaneously, as the gawking, wicked persecutors looked on wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
The earth and the heavens would then be ignited, together with the living wicked, and all would melt to a liquid, as Christ and the saints watched. Then the earth would quickly cool off to a smooth earth with no air or water (as these were considered corrupting elements and not needed by immortalized fleshly bodies). Thus would be the New Heavens and New Earth foretold in the Bible. The saints and Christ, in a literal heavenly City of New Jerusalem (streets paved with gold, 12 large pearls for gates, 1,500 miles cubical), would descend to this new sphere. Here they would reside in glory for a thousand years, at the end of which the wicked dead would be resurrected from hell-fire, given their fleshly bodies back (in an immortalized form) and then be sent back to hell-fire to burn forever. The purpose of this “resurrection” would be to let them see what they have missed out on by not accepting Christ—this also tormenting them. The saved would live eternally on earth, ever after.
Following the failure of October 22, 1844 (called the “Great Disappointment”), the Millerites—now calling themselves Evangelical Adventists—eventually went out of existence, for all practical purposes (at least by the turn of the century). By 1920, for sure, none remained. However, a number of churches continue to carry on similar eschatological views. Among these are the Advent Christians and Seventh-day Adventists.
Their views differ from Miller’s in that they have come to believe that instead of the earth and heavens being melted to a liquid state, it would only be a charred cinder for the thousand years (with only the Devil here), and that at the end of it, and the final test, the saints and Christ would then come down in the New Jerusalem to live eternally. Also, under Storrs’ influence, these came to believe in the mortality of the soul and no eternal hell-fire. Therefore, the resurrected ones, at the end of the thousand years, would be brought back to see what they missed and then they would be put back to death again. It was this view that Storrs eventually objected to and which incited changes in his views on eschatology.
ADVENT CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION
A large group of individuals banded together after the Great Disappointment into a very loosely organized group that held principally to Miller’s eschatological views, but unlike Miller personally, individuals did continue to set a number of recurring dates (for example, 1847 and 1854) for Christ’s Return. They kept Sunday as the Sabbath (instead of Saturday), rejected Mrs. E. G. White (SDA) and her visions, as well as the “charred-earth” theory for the Millennium. Under Storrs’ influence, they rejected Miller’s view on soul-immortality and hell-fire. In this they were similar to the SDA (on the second resurrection at the end of the thousand years). However, they believed the earth would melt and would take an undetermined period of time to cool off, maybe a thousand or millions of years. After that, the saints and Christ would descend into New Jerusalem, as above.
STORRS CHANGED ESCATOLOGICAL VIEWS
Storrs held typical postmillennial Methodist views till the fall of 1842 when he became convinced of the views of William Miller. These notions he held for fully three months, and preached them. By January of 1843, he had rejected Miller’s “world burning” view which is that the world (heaven and earth) would be melted and those not prepared to meet their Lord (non-Millerites). He also rejected the view that there would be no return of the Jews to Palestine as the time until the end was too close for them to do so.
However, at this time Storrs did NOT reject Miller’s conviction that Christ would come 1843-44, and even was an admitted fanatic for the October 1844 date. When nothing happened he ceased to support any further date-setting. He acknowledged that he had accepted the European and the United States “Literalists’” position by January 1843 of the Advent taking place BEFORE the Millennium, that it was “nigh” – “…the prophetic events and signs of the times all proclaiming that period at hand – the new earth to be the abode and inheritance of the saints and are no part nor parcel of “Millerism” though often claimed as such.”
Christ would come with, and for, his saints at the same instant, Storrs thought, they rising to meet him and then descending the rest of the way to the Mt. of Olives with him. And, as a result, “there are those ‘left of the nations,’ after the Advent, who are evidently in a state of probation, and over whom the immortal saints, with Christ will ‘reign the thousand years’ and to whom the same saints will be ‘Priests’ to instruct as well as govern, till the close of the Millennium; or, are the immortalized one just to do nothing for a thousand years, only to ‘sing Psalms’ on the new earth and wait for the second resurrection?”
The “Literalists” believed these events to be near (“this generation will probably witness it”) which also was a conviction of Storrs. Both believed the prophesied events of Matthew 24 were having their fulfillment. Storrs termed this view of the Millennium, the “age to come.” As was his life-long habit, his views were in a constant state of flux – always changing to keep up with the advancing “light,” as he saw it shine. In 1849 he began expressing his viewpoint of what he expected to lead up to Christ’s visible, literal return (with his saints, living and resurrected, having glorified and immortalized fleshly bodies). He believed Europe to be the PLACE symbolized by Armageddon. This is where the ten horns of European Kingdoms under Papal influence would turn on Papal Rome to destroy her (Rev. 19:11-20:3). In this way the armies are really fighting against Christ, “though he is invisible to the opposing army… We may illustrate the SECRET PRESENCE OF CHRIST in this battle by the case recorded in 2 Kings 6:15-17…” (Emphasis added)
Some have mistaken such statements of Storrs to indicate that he believed in a secret invisible Second Presence of Christ in the way Nelson H. Barbour and C. T. Russell did later on. This is in no way the case. He believed Armageddon was then going on, which would be followed by a literal, visible, fleshly second coming of Christ to this earth to set up his throne and kingdom in the literal city of Jerusalem. He objects to Miller’s theory, because “it removes the Kingdom of God from THIS EARTH, the very place where the entire testimony of the Bible locates it.”
The next step in this development was to conceive of Christ’s Return as being a series of events over a period of time. “When it is said that we are to expect the coming of Christ at any time, I conceive the commencement of a series of events, having relation to the progress of the Lord, and terminating in the revelation of Jesus Christ, is intended.” This was illustrated by Christ’s first coming beginning with a series of events – his baptism – and ending with his death, resurrection and ascension. However, it is insisted that Christ and the saints will have fleshly, but immortalized, bodies and will be here on earth forever.
As matters developed, and as Darby’s concepts began to spread, articles appeared that reflected some of those views, such as with the “Great Parenthesis” theory of the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy. Some years later, Storrs changed his ideas again – more in line with Darby’s, though these changed views were attributed to Scripture and Darby was never acknowledged as the source of them. (Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Storrs did not think of them originating with Darby, but rather in Scripture.) Instead of the European War causing the Jews to return to Palestine first, he conceived of the Jews returning to Palestine, THEN Armageddon being fought. Also, he conceives of Christ coming for his saints, secretly, invisibly at first, escaping the seven years of tribulation immediately to follow, which includes the Jews returning to Palestine, the Great European War, ( a combination of Greek, Roman and Anglican Churches), and Gog’s attack on the Jews. Christ then comes WITH his saints to save the Jews and thus also converts them. So ends the seven years of Tribulation with the literal, visible, immortalized fleshly coming of Christ and his saints, and then setting up a literal kingdom in the literal city of earthly Jerusalem.
From the foregoing, it’s obvious that Storrs’ concepts changed from post-millennial Methodism to the pre-millennialism of English literalists and then on to Darbyism’s pre-millennialism and pre-tribulation concepts. This is the same general scenario of the transitions that other mainline Protestant groups were undergoing (that is, groups of people within them were undergoing). Storrs was taking the lead in this in so far as the various Adventists groups were concerned. He was considered a leader in the belief of “advancing light,” and in accepting “new truths” in his quest for truth.
Storrs did make a further change in his eschatological view after 1871 which was not accepted by many: because of the covenant made with Abraham that “in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” and on the basis of the Ransom of Christ, the vast majority of all humans would be brought back in the “ages (not age to come) to come,’ after the Millennium and the final test and then be given an opportunity to accept Christ. This was a dramatic and far-reaching change. No other group accepted that this would happen in the ages after the final test, but Barbour and Russell did believe this would happen during the thousand-year reign of Christ, and that view has continued till today among the Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with some minor adjustments.
Since the Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses were involved with Storrs, it maybe of some interest to note how Storrs’ views differed from C. T. Russell’s (as well as harmonized) on eschatological matters. Russell conceived of a series of events somewhat different than Storrs did. These would occur over a 40-year period from 1874 to 1914 instead of a seven-year span, as Storrs conceived it (under Darby’s influence). C. T. Russell believed Christ came down to this earth personally, but invisibly, in 1874. Previous to 1878, he conceived of the dead saints having an invisible resurrection in the spring of 1875 and expected the living saints to be taken to heaven by an invisible, secret rapture (or translation) by April of 1878. After that failed he then taught that the invisible, secret resurrection of the dead had occurred on April 4, 1878, instead of back in 1875.
1881 was the next anticipated date for the living saints to be translated. When that failed, then this date was said to mark another event, not open to dis-confirmation. Storrs objected to Barbour’s, Russell’s and Paton’s setting the April 4, 1878 date, as well as what they expected for that date (and also to what they thought had occurred in 1874). He conceived that the living and dead saints would all go to heaven at the same instant and that there would be no space of time between these events as Barbour and Russell taught which was 1878 first (previously 1875) for the invisible resurrection and then later (3 ½ years) or 1881 for the rapture of the living saints.
Storrs did conceive of a space of seven-years between the time of Christ coming for his saints and his coming with his saints in glorious, immortalized, physical bodies to set up the Kingdom in earthly Jerusalem and live and reign from there forever. Barbour and Russell believed the Kingdom to be set up in HEAVENLY, invisible Jerusalem, beyond the stars, and Storrs fervently disagreed with them on this. Thus, can be seen the similarities and differences between Russell, Barbour and Storrs on these matters.
STORRS’ ORGANIZATIONAL VIEWS
His was a unique and powerful viewpoint that inspired and influenced many of the various Adventist sects toward Christian freedom for many years. This prevented certain ambitious men among the Adventists from regimenting them (and thus dominating them) for their own personal advantage (as Nelson H. Barbour would seem to have done). J. H. Paton and C. T. Russell adopted, to a large extent, George Storrs’ views on organization. Most of the opposition and misrepresentation came to Storrs from vengeful would-be, frustrated Adventist ‘leaders.’ That misrepresentation seemingly even persists until today in accounts about George Storrs. He was not against “Church organization” as such, but he was against certain practices that made such organizations sectarian and oppressive. Thus, Storrs believed that Christian freedom was stifled.
As previously indicated, Storrs early on took a very firm stand for individual freedom and responsibility and did not believe that anyone could turn over or assign that responsibility to a Pope or body of religious authority, but that each person was directly responsible to God for his beliefs and conduct. In other words, worshipers had the ABSOLUTE authority to determine FOR THEMSELVES what saving truth is and that it was easier for individuals to do so from the Bible alone than from the conflicting and confusing religious creeds or doctrines and the labyrinth of metaphysical speculations of men! He believed all such religious and ecclesiastical authorities are “unwarrantable assumptions of authority over the body of Christ and should be resisted as an invasion of PERSONAL RIGHTS and PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY… the Scriptures are the ONLY and SUFFICIENT rule of faith and each member of God’s church has the inalienable right to INTERPRET them according to his personal understanding, free from censure or liability by no one except God.”
Further Storrs believed that at best church organizations can only be a HUMAN contrivance, since the divine, apostolic miraculous gifts of the spirit have passed away and therefore the whole structure of the first-century congregation cannot be emulated. Any attempts to do so could only result in disaster unless institutors of such could undeniably demonstrate they have such authority by the demonstration of such miraculous gifts as raising the dead, curing lepers, speaking in tongues and manifesting knowledge. Salvation, Storrs believed, in no way depends on belonging to a particular sect, or group of church, but ONLY upon our union with Christ, since he is the ONLY mediator between God and man. Usually every such SECTARIAN organization promotes one or more doctrines (Sabbath, Trinity, etc) as being indispensable to salvation along with the idea that only by belonging to that sect will one be saved to eternal life; it, and it alone, has “the truth.” In this way the sect sets itself up as an INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY and usurper of CHRIST’S AUTHORITY.
Though the cult would deny this with profuse professions of innocence, the proof of its hypocrisy is that it excludes all who in any way beg to differ with it, on even the slightest matters of doctrine or policy. Storrs insisted that the only test of fellowship should be one’s profession of being a Christian and one’s moral conduct, and that only on a personal basis, NOT connected with an organizational decision. Speaking about all such sectarian organizations, Storrs said: “I still believe them to an evil to the cause of truth, though they help designing men to keep themselves in the place of God to determine for others what they shall believe.” Thus they create, he said, “LORDSHIPS in the body, and imperceptibly to destroy individual responsibility and ultimately enslave the body to designing men, who seek their own and not the things which are Jesus Christ’s … I have seen this PROCESS of organizing conferences … Next come ‘resolutions’; ADVVISORY, of course, at first: but presently DICTATORIAL; next, PENAL: excommunicating any who conscientiously may beg to differ. Thus they come full circle to being another persecuting sect, such as they dissented from.
Moreover, he observed that all new sects start with profuse professions of LIBERTY, because usually they were excluded themselves – but end up with the most full-blossom BIGOTS because they do not determine what real freedom means and can not therefore hold to it. While acknowledging that first-century congregations were ruled over (independent of any other congregation) by a body of elders, such was no criteria for today because we do not have the “gifts of the spirit” today. They did not have the completed body of Scripture – but we do today. We therefore do not need the system of elders they had then, because each is individually responsible to God, and with the full revelation of God’s will in his own personal possession, the bible, complete. Then, apostles and elders had miraculous “gifts of the sprit” to insure their infallibility and to guide congregations. It is different now: EACH is a royal priest directly responsible to God and fully qualified to responsible to God to decide doctrine and practice. Every sect, new and old, claims it exists by DIVINE LAW. On this basis, Storrs points out, they become BIGOTED SECTARIANS. (Storrs did not feel it was his calling or duty to call people out of “Babylon.”) That sectarian, organizational “crutch” he granted to all who felt the need for it, but warned of the possible devastating consequences of exclusion and the interference such Christians would receive in searching for, and spreading “truth,” as they came to understand it. There was no problem if a church allowed those freedoms. But none did.
Intolerance is the blackest sin, he warned, for it assumes INFALLIBILITY, putting worshipers in the place of God. Only God has the right to PUNISH for errors: he alone can judge if the error was of the head or heart. The ‘infallible,’ sectarian propagandist strives to rivet so much of one’s attention on himself, or a particular doctrine (like a date), that it eclipses one’s devotion to God. The same can be said of an organization itself. Sects claim to have special AUTHORITY to command obedience, though they cannot demonstrate it. Their first thought is how to convert people, by any means – even by deception and feel justified, Storrs argued, in so doing because worshipers are being “saved.” All protests and arguments are met by the argument that God is blessing them – “Just look at the numbers and increases we are having,” and “This proves we are on the right path and have God’s approval.”
Storrs further indicates that by the practice of duplicity and deception and implied contract, religious deceivers get members to join by promising them complete freedom of belief and expression. Then when individuals join, bonds of the most regimental nature are welded upon these unsuspecting ones by putting the fear of disfellowshipping, excommunication or shunning in them if they complain. Another trick, Storrs warns, is to convert sincere ones on one, or a few points, then get them to commit themselves by baptism. Soon converts are saddled with the rest of the sect’s creed and forced to accept by fear of exclusion, second death, etc.
Sects get into the habit of PREACHING righteous ideas and principles, Storrs observed, but in PRACTICE they allow all manner of corrupt, wicked and unscrupulous persons to remain in good standing as long as they subject themselves to “worship” the group. However, the sects at the same time are very quick to exclude any who may in the slightest way beg to differ with them as to opinion or policy. This is termed “heresy,” “apostasy” or “sectarianism.” To use the threat of excommunication or exclusion to force UNITY, Storrs believed, is the direct way to CAUSE DIVISIONS and ALWAYS ends in bigotry and persecuting sectarianism, which destroys love and renders the persecutors ANTI-Christian. If LOVE fails to UNIFY, nothing else will, he says. No oppressive CHURCH GOVERNMENT or organization, exercising the tyranny of authority, can produce genuine UNITY. He observed that the acceptance of, or rejection of, certain doctrines o creeds is not a valid test of MORAL character, as there are both moral and immoral who accept and reject contrary concepts. Storrs observed that many – “claim that Christian character (with them) is the only test of fellowship … It is NOT SO. They tolerate and sustain wicked and unscrupulous persons, not caring to bring them to the light, that their deeds may be reproved, but if a brother or sister, in their search for spiritual food, dare to step a little out of the accustomed “rest,” by embracing some new phase of truth … they are branded with “heresy” and love and fellowship are past.”
Historically, sects from earliest years have worked hard to establish the idea that their organization was of divine commission by God and that of necessity one must be a bona-fide member, in good standing with it, to receive salvation. Conducive to this has been the tremendous drive to proselytize – the idea being that God was not saving individuals AS SUCH, but was saving the group, the church, the organization. So…one MUST be a member of the group to receive salvation. Storrs enunciates that this concept developed from the second-century on, and has been in evidence all down through the centuries until now.
Promoting, as he did, his views on Christian freedom, Storrs thus became like a lone beacon light in a dark sea of oppressive, sectarian regimentation. He managed to hold back a flood of repressive cultism for as long as he lived, and even beyond that, by his influence.
STORRS’ APPROACH TO BIBLE STUDY
While his approach to the study of the Bible may not have been entirely new, it was significantly different from that of orthodoxy. By it he managed to produce, along with the help of others, what was considered by some to be “new light.” One of the earliest discoveries of Storrs, when he learned the “truth” about the soul, hell and the trinity, from Henry Grew, was that all doctrines had to square with the known attributes of God – namely, LOVE, POWER, WISDOM and JUSTICE. “We must judge all doctrine by the Light of God’s Perfections (attributes) and… and if they do not harmonize with these, something is wrong.
Charles Taze Russell acknowledged learning these concepts from George Storrs, through a personal Bible study with him. While nothing is said about the various translations of the Bible, Storrs does day that not every word of the Bible is inspired, but that God has seen to it that we have a TRUSTWORTHY record of it today. Storrs believed that the bible was a progressive revelation, written by many penmen over 1,500 years, on ONE theme, which proved inspiration to him.
As to the INTERPRETATION of the Bible, Storrs believed its words must be given their primary and obvious meaning, unless it is OBVIOUSLY otherwise. The CONTEXT is to define the words, which may have a variety of meanings. All interpretations must harmonize with God’s attributes, Storrs thought. God’s intent was to have a plain revelation of his will to the COMMON people; therefore it was NOT to be interpreted MYSTICALLY or metaphysically. Nor were fragmented texts to be collected, regardless of context, and made to prove a doctrine. All true doctrines were to harmonize with each other and the general tenor and principles of God’s Character. Storrs acknowledged that in the past various methods of interpretation had been applied: The Grammatical (earliest Christians); The Allegorical (started by Origen, which allowed for unlimited speculation – to attract pagan philosophers); The DOGMATICAL (“by Church Councils, starting in 325 AD, formulating Creeds; these believing that God was inspiring them to interpret Scripture for their day – thus interpretation was mandated to a professional clergy class who were inspired by Holy Spirit, that was with them as they believe Christ had promised, ‘till the end of the world.’ They believed that it took a special gift to interpret this mystical writing, without which it could not be properly understood by each succeeding generation. Therefore the common people did not need to learn to read and write, but it was better for them to remain superstitious so the clergy could control them without their being interfered with by educated persons.”)
Storrs contended that the various systems of interpretations made a complete shambles of properly understanding the Bible. We are coming out of great spiritual darkness, he believed, and rejected the dogma of some that special divine light is given certain clergy upon their ordination to interpret Scripture. The way the Holy Spirit enlightens is by the purification of one’s nature by repentance and forgiveness, through Christ’s Ransom and thus bringing one into MORAL HARMONY and sympathy with the Creator. A clear distinction must be drawn between Scriptural FACTS AND HUMAN INFERENCES, thought Storrs. Facts are clear, direct, unquestioned statement in Scripture (such as that God created the world, that he exists, what his character is, that we are to have faith). Human INFERENCES may be based on the facts and may be right or wrong, to one extent or another, as time and further evidence will demonstrate. No INFERENCE should be made the basis of a requirement for salvation or a test of fellowship or a basis of exclusion. All organized church creeds are based on INFERENCES, since there are various views on each.
Going overboard on TYPES and ALLEGORIES was another pet peeve of Storrs. True, the bible does give a few, but we should not go beyond these specific ones, as Origen did, who said that each text has a two-fold sense and a four-fold application! All Scripture should be read as a whole section at a time. Commentaries, “Bible helps,” etc. CAN be of assistance, but also can be a hindrance if they insinuate that they are indispensable to understanding the Bible. The cumbersome apparatus of ‘systematic interpretation,’ with all of its fine definitions of words, is far more of a hindrance than a help. The Bible is relatively simple to understand if it is read as you would read any other non-fiction work, Storrs declared. The more one becomes acquainted with it, the easier it will be to understand. Allegorical, dogmatic and creedal interpretations have made it difficult, if not impossible, to understand the Bible as God intended.
While others, then and later, may have taken a similar approach to Bible Study, there can be no doubt but that Storrs did take the lead in this method and did influence many others associated with the Second Advent movement to view matters in a similar way.
SEARCHING AFTER TRUTH
The greatest duty of every man, Storrs believed, was to search after truth and prepare ourselves conscientiously for the reception of that truth by which he must live. To accomplish this, he told of some guidelines and warned of several pitfalls along the ‘path of the righteous.’ Storrs conceived that God gave us, individually, all the tools necessary to successfully discover this saving truth. We have the ‘reason of a sound mind’ and the complete revelation of God’s will, in the Scriptures. With these we can determine the principles of God’s Word so that we can Judge, Weigh and Compare to arrive at truth. Other human agencies can be a help to us, UNLESS they view their opinions as indispensable to salvation or a test of fellowship. In such instances they become worst than useless, because they then become almost insurmountable obstacles to finding any new truths. He believed ‘truth’ to be entirely SUBJECTIVE, and no man or body of men can rightfully put themselves between the individual and his God. This, he thought, would be criminal and traitorous to truth. Each individual was FOR HIMSELF, ONLY, the supreme Interpreter and Decider of what was TRUTH. One must keep a completely open mind to all sides of any subject till ALL the evidence is in and he has impartially weighed it. Even then, he must not become petrified, but must be open to any new evidence that may change or modify his conclusions. He must take a “scientific” approach in his quest for truth. Storrs further believed that some truth lay scattered and hidden among the various sects and so one must not be bigoted or prejudiced against a group because they have much error. No one group has ALL the truth, no will they ever, till “perfection” is arrived.
One must recognize the “pitfall” of the sects. Each one claims for themselves the right to judge, not only for themselves, but for all others, what truth is. Each one also professes the greatest freedom to search for, and proclaim, truth, but when one joins the sect it is an entirely different story. The greatest pressure is applied to conform to its narrow ‘creed,’ statement of belief, or whatever they prefer to call it. Therefore, he suggests avoiding membership in ANY group. There is also a danger to be avoided when one does discover one or more truths. One must not think then that all truth has been discovered. “Young sectarians who discover some new truth, then petrify, are the most bigoted of all, Storrs warns. Neither should one who discovers new truth make it a requirement for fellowship or salvation for ANOTHER. Some wrongfully fear to search for new truth least they find it! They fear being different, the reproach and shame attendant with new truth, the responsibility of sharing it with others, the fear of being deceived by something new and as yet untested, the fear of being shunned by former friends and associates and “brothers.” All these are pitfalls to be avoided. In any discussion over “truth,” one can determine the professed sincerity of the participants by their conduct. If they engage in name-calling, accusations, questioning motives, appeal to emotion or some other form of unchristian conduct, then one can be sure that something less than a sincere interest in truth is the object. “From these turn away,” he counsels. “Prejudice” and “Bigotry” are the twin devils that will always oppose one in his search for truth. One must not believe that God has withheld anything necessary for truth’s comprehension, nor that all truth is already known and discovered, nor that NOTHING can be known for a certainty. Further, one must cultivate candor, love, humility, honesty, fidelity to truth and all the other fruitage of the spirit, to be successful. One must have a pure motive and an improving relationship with God. One must EXPECT to encounter doubts and difficulties along the way. Even Bible writers expressed anxiety. DOUBT is no sin. When overcome, it can be eminently beneficial, as it will strengthen ones faith. The Catholic view that ‘any doubt is sin’ is wrong, Storrs believed. They wish one to exercise blind credulity in the Hierarchy’s authority to interpret for everyone. Neither is the Protestant view of “direct miraculous individual ENLIGHTENMENT through prayer correct. Such will only result in a self-induced revelation according to the individual’s disposition and previous religious training and education, and not in true enlightenment from God.
Another pitfall to be aware of, observed Storrs, is PRIDE, especially if one claims to be a TEACHER of religious matters. Forms would be pride of one’s knowledge, his view of matters, his assumption of having “the truth,” or the position he may have in relation to others. These are all hindrances to one’s quest for truth. We should never put matters we teach as DOGMA, but as our honest and firm convictions of truth, subject to any future modification that may become necessary. Only those who have a real LOVE for truth will endure the dangers of investigating doctrine that long ago was looked on as “settled.” Our search for truth should be to honor God and his Son and to promote love among our fellow man by sharing the truth we find. We may make some mistakes in so doing, but we will never be wrong in heart and our life will be right with God. We will never pass sentence on another in religious matters, for only God can read the heart in such matters, especially so since we only ‘know in part now’ and none will be perfect in understanding “till that which is complete arrives,” 1 Corinthians 13:10-12.
All advances in understanding will bring CHANGE, which in turn produces TRIAL. We will continue to outgrow our Christian clothing. Short-sighted creedal organizations are opposed to all change, which proves them to be sectarian. Only by a thorough examination of “proving all things” will we arrive at the truth, and thus recognize error also. Of Storrs it was said: “His zeal for the truth was always coupled with a bearing of propriety toward those with whom he differed, even those who considered him an enemy, but they were never able to truthfully say one word against his moral character.”
Strictly speaking, it is NOT new light that is being discovered, but Storrs believed these TRUTHS have always been in existence, scattered among the various SECTS, buried under centuries of musty tradition. However, we must clearly distinguish between FACTS in Scripture and Inferences drawn, which may not really be new light. “new” truths can be discovered by comparing the light of God’s perfections and principles on these concepts. Only by this process can we arrive at a clear perception of what truth and error are. Storrs believed that each individual can have divine guidance when he comes into contact with the Word or Work of God in an unbiased way. He thus receives impressions which must be considered as God’s TRUTH and an interaction develops between the individual and his God, that no one else can rightly interfere with or substitute for, as all the sects attempt to put themselves in that place, wrongfully so. These impressions are not to be regarded as infallible. It is a continuing and cleansing and purifying process, since we are yet imperfect and sinful. One’s position should be that of a detective or investigator, searching for truth –not a DOGMATIST with positive, infallible conclusions, enforcing these with withdrawals of fellowship and condemnations and threats of damnation.
By developing this personal relationship with Jehovah, Storrs, had a constant sense of being in the way his Divine Master would have him go, and the peace of God ruled in his heart continually. He put his all into his work and if others did not support his magazine then he would take that to mean it was no longer called for in the battle for God and his cause. He believed he was called to a work in advance of most of his former labors, which was to make known the Divine purpose and Love of God, for every man.
He further believed that this was not unique with him but that every man who strove after truth in the same way could have this same divine guidance, for it was a free gift to all. He freely acknowledged that many others were being used by God in the same way and that he was NOT the sole channel or agency through which diving light and new truths were to come. In fact, he even acknowledged that Henry Dunn published some extremely new and important truths that he at first rejected, but a few years later he thought of these himself and then recognized them as light. He had previously rejected them because, as he acknowledged, he was not ready for these new truths at that time.
Another important concept of Storrs was that in God’s due time all true Christians would be called out of the oppressive, regimented church organizations that they may yet be in before God destroyed such organizations. Storrs did not make that call, since he did not believe the time was ripe for it to be made, under God’s direction.
In all this it is well to keep in mind that Storrs was criticized for changing some of his views. Such made some people feel uneasy, insecure and unsure of their convictions. To Storrs this was very immature, and even an immoral, ambivalence. He viewed his position as a virtue and not a vice, zealously proclaiming what he was convinced was the truth, regardless of the fact that someday he may come into possession of evidence that would necessitate a change in his position. He was not afraid of advancing light, nor where it would lead. In this sense he viewed himself as a real “searcher after truth,” a real “scientist.” What if some scientists took the stance that they would not change because the truth about the universe does not change? That would be false and very detrimental ground to occupy indeed. We would still be viewing the earth as flat and the center of the universe! It was not a sin, Storrs believed, to change one’s thinking, when facts necessitated it. The sin was in refusing to do so, and persecuting those who did change. On the other hand, Storrs did not believe in changing for change sake. He demanded firm evidence before changing. His was not an enigmatic vacillation. During the Reformation such advances were necessitated by increasing light – so today, Storrs thought. As such a “reformer,” Storrs set an example that was emulated by many of his Second Advent brethren, but condemned by others.
SALVATION THROUGH THE RANSOM
Another “theological” principle which was under-girded by Storrs’s other concepts was the Ransom. Here again Storrs differed from the “orthodox” and pioneered a new field for many who were acquainted with him.
The “mysteries” of the Trinity, Atonement, Immortal Soul, Hell-fire, etc., all have a direct bearing on salvation through the Ransom. These set the example of the personal relations one had with God and each other. Under the Trinitarian concept, forgiveness is granted with only a confession of belief in the Son and not by repentance. (Storrs defined repentance as acknowledging the specific sin, requesting forgiveness from God and the one sinned against, and righting the wrongs to the extent possible.)
Personal sins are to be handled in the same way. They are to be forgiven without the sinner even so much as acknowledging he committed the sin, let alone repenting for it. Storrs, on the other hand took a completely different approach. He said Christ did not vicariously suffer, die for and “pay the debt of” every sinner – each sinner paid for that himself when he died. On the other hand, he taught that Christ did pay for the debt of our personally committed sins, by canceling the penalty of the sins (second death) so we would not have to pay for them, when we REPENTED of those sins. An additional benefit of Christ’s Ransom, for those putting faith in it, was that while each one, for oneself, would pay the penalty of Adamic sin (sin and death we all inherited from Adam, due to his sin), likewise, all would be granted a resurrection from death due to Adam’s sin, but not so from our own, unrepentant sins. Also, the Ransom would bring back all who, in their first life, did not have an adequate opportunity to avail themselves of this Ransom for them.
Thus can be seen the wide range of convictions held by George Storrs and those with him. The changes that these men made in their search for truth have also been noted. Keeping these in mind, one can compare what the various, more orthodox churches, hold to, as well as those other groups belonging to the Second Advent spectrum. All of this should give one a better perspective of the religious scene, and better enable one to discern what the truth of the matter really is. As John Stuart Mill once said:
“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”
Zion’s Watchman, 1836-1840, Published by George Storrs and LaRroy Sunderland, New York City. Abolitionist magazine devoted to changing Methodists views about slavery. It succeeded becoming the largest among Methodist journals.
Bible Examiner, Jan. 1843 (No. 1) to March, 1860. Suspended publication at various times, especially from August 1863 to Sept. 1871, but never since then until the spring of 1879. Only one or two issues appeared after that. Until September 1844, it was issued at Brooklyn, N.Y. From 845 to 1853 it was issued at Philadelphia, PA. From 1853 on, it was issued at Brooklyn, NY. The magazine was also suspended from January 1, 1858 until January 1880.
The Christian Truth-Seeker and Miscellany, 1851, George Storrs editor, Philadelphia. Only one mention of this periodical in the Bible Examiner, May 1851, p. 80.
Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom, 1863-1871, George Storrs, Editor. Storrs started to promote the doctrine that the wicked would never be resurrected but also included other subjects. The Board of Managers officially terminated Storrs as editor, but he resigned when he came to have a change of views about the doctrine of the wicked having no resurrection. Storrs then restarted the Bible Examiner in September 1871 in Brooklyn, NY.
Six Sermons, 167 pgs. Various editions from 1842 until 1856 (Distribution-200,000)
A Defense of the Bible, 1868, 48 pgs. A debate between Geo. Storrs and Joseph Baker.
Devil, Satan, Demons…, 1869, 44 pgs. Arguments that there was no personal Devil.
The European War…, 1859, 34 pgs. Papal Rome and the Napoleon Dynasty in prophecy.
The Intermediate State…, 1844, 48 pgs. The state of the dead from death to resurrection.
Life from the Dead…, 1857, 94 pgs. The righteous only will live again.
Man’s Destiny… Reviewed, 1856, 155 pgs. Arguments on immortality by Rev. T. M. Post.
Reviewer Reviewed, 1853, 35 pgs. Reply to Elder J. G. Stearns on immortality of the soul.
The Unity of Man, Peace Dale, R. I. H. L. Hastings, 1856, 122 pgs. On soul immortality.
A Vindication of the Government of God Over the Children of Men. 1874, 72 pgs.
The Watch Tower, N.Y., 96 pgs. On the state of man in death and his hope for the future.
SECONDARY WORKS – BOOKS
ADVENT CHRISTIAN HISTORY, 1918. Albert C. Johnson (Advent Christian historian)
History of the Second Advent Message, 1874, 650 pgs, Isaac C. Wellcome, Boston, Mass.
Days of Delusion, 1924, 250 pgs. Clara Endicot Sears
Theocratic Kingdom, George Nathaniel Henry Peters, 1883 (Three Volumes)
The Burned Over District, 1950, Whitney R. Cross, Cornell University Press