Letters and Manuscripts — Volume 9

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Lt 123, 1894

White, J. E.

“Norfolk Villa,” Prospect St., Granville, New South Wales, Australia

December 20, 1894

Portions of this letter are published in 4Bio 172-175.

Dear Son Edson:

I think I have told you before that the tent was moved from the campground after the camp meeting into a favorable location near the center of the city. Ashfield is no inferior suburb. The residences of the wealthy are scattered all through the suburb, and it is only four miles from the city of Sydney. Meetings have been in progress nearly every night since the camp was broken up, and quite a number have taken their position on the Sabbath. Among these are members of the Wesleyan Church and the Church of England. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 1

Most bitter opposition has been manifested, and the ministers put forth an organized effort to visit every family. They were in possession of Canright’s books, and used them to the utmost to turn away the ears of the people from the truth. There was a meeting appointed, and one of their ministers thought that he had exploded the truth concerning the Sabbath. Our brethren were present to take notes. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 2

Another meeting was appointed in which the ministers, church officials, and those who were troubled over the Sabbath question were invited to assemble. Brother McCullagh could not attend the meeting, because he was obliged to preach that evening in the tent, and when his meeting was over, he went to the Methodist Church to see what was the reason the workers had not returned. He found the church still lighted up, so he stepped in to see what was going on. He found a number of persons engaged in a hot discussion in regard to the Sabbath question. The ministers were misinterpreting the Scriptures, seeking to make the truth of no effect, and to remove the impression from the minds of those who were deeply convicted. But the men who had heard the truth could not accept their expositions. The ministers were ridiculing passages from the Bible which had a bearing on the subject. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 3

One man, a storekeeper, was greatly stirred. He told them that ridicule, lightness, or jesting, could not relieve his mind. He said the matter was of serious importance to him, and he wanted to know whether or not the Sabbath of the fourth commandment was binding upon men, and whether Sunday was a false sabbath. He said, “I do not wish to lose my soul, and these questions are of serious consequence.” He asked them if the time had not come for the shedding of new light upon the Scripture. He was not satisfied that the men who should have given him clear reasoning from the Scriptures, and thus have brought relief to his mind, were making light of his convictions. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 4

Brother McCullagh asked if he might speak a few words, and permission was granted. He gave the true interpretation of the Scriptures which they had garbled. Then a man by the name of Picton, a Campbellite minister, who was a trained debater, and according to his own opinion a man of intellectual superiority, challenged our people to meet him in debate on the Sabbath question. We felt very sorry to enter into a discussion on this matter, for generally it leaves an excited state of feeling; but there was no evading of the matter. The man boasted that he would wipe out the Seventh-day Adventists, and as God would be dishonored if this proud, boasting Goliath was left to defy Israel, the terms of the debate were agreed upon. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 5

Great care was exercised in prescribing the conditions of the debate. The discussion was to last through six nights; the speakers were each to speak twice during the evening. Elder Corliss tried to heed the words of caution given him by the General of Armies, and the Lord wrought in his behalf. He did not give way to any excited or sensitive feelings, but kept himself to the task of crowding in all the truth possible. He maintained a solemn, dignified manner, and the light of the Holy Spirit shone in his countenance. Before entering the debate every evening a number engaged in special prayer in his behalf, and through the debate the brethren prayed for his success. The Lord Jesus put His impress upon the man, and the people could see which one manifested the Spirit of Christ, and which one revealed the fact that he was moved with a power from beneath. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 6

The rule was laid down that there should be no cheering; but the first night the people applauded the opponent of truth. The ministers who were present were full of prejudice, and under their teaching the people were full of bitterness. As the truth was brought out in its clearness and beauty before the people, their feelings were greatly changed. Before the discussion was half through the Wesleyan Church could not accommodate the congregation, and a large hall was engaged, and every evening was well filled with interested listeners. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 7

On the stand were seated the minister of the Wesleyan Church, Brother McCullagh, the chairman of the meeting, and the speakers in the debate. The Methodist minister made manifest that he was controlled by the spirit of Satan. He was full of bitterness and hatred and made himself conspicuous by whispering to the debater when Brother Corliss was talking. Elder Corliss did not appear to notice him. He went through the discussion trusting in God, not relying upon himself, and the truth was not dishonored at his hands. The man stood before the people as if bathed in the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. He was dignified because he was conscious of the fact that he was the mouthpiece for God. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 8

As the debate continued night after night, the minds of the majority of the people were turned in favor of the truth. There were some who allowed prejudice to control them to such an extent that they would not acknowledge truth even though it was as plain as noonday. Time and again the chairman had to call the meeting to order as Brother Corliss showed up the inconsistency of Mr. Picton’s arguments, for they were so delighted with the keen, cutting truth that they could not restrain the demonstration of their pleasure. These demonstrations on the part of the people in behalf of the truth made the opposing party feel rather crestfallen, and they insisted that the chairman should hold the meeting to the rules of the debate. On the last evening of the debate there were several ministers from other denominations present. When the chairman stated that it was out of order to make any demonstrations, and that the audience must refrain from it, because they were sitting not as mere auditors but in the capacity of jurors, these ministers were heard to offer dissent. They had not been to the previous meetings, and did not know on which side the applause would be most hearty, and they thought it a great grievance that Mr. Picton should not be encouraged in his efforts. After the chairman had stated his reasons why the audience should refrain from applause, and had introduced Mr. Picton, these ministers, going contrary to the rules of the debate, tried to work up a demonstration, and failed. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 9

All through the debate Brother Corliss kept insisting that his opponent should produce a text in favor of Sundaykeeping, for the question of debate was, “Do the Scriptures teach that Christians should observe the first day of the week as the Sabbath day?” Through the five nights of the debate Mr. Picton had hard work to confine himself to the Bible, and made the usual arguments against the Sabbath of the fourth commandment and in favor of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath. On the evening preceding the last evening, he spent his first half hour in portraying the sacred character of the church as an assembled gathering, and made the claim that this sacred assembly always met together on the first day of the week to break bread. He declared that if his opponent could show him that this sacred assembly ever met together to break bread on any other day of the week, he would give up the whole question. He had a great flow of language accompanied by a great deal of bodily exercise, but his arguments were few and far between. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 10

Brother Corliss in his next speech showed him that the disciples met together to break bread from house to house on every day of the week, and thoroughly exploded all his flimsy positions. Mr. Picton used up the last half hour in bewailing the fact that Brother Corliss wasted so much time. On the last evening, as he had availed himself of every scripture from which he could draw an inference in favor of Sunday, he turned to the Fathers. He quoted Barnabas, St. Justin, and Eusebius, and Brother Corliss again insisted on the production of a text from the Bible in favor of Sundaykeeping. Brother Corliss packed in the truth, and as he closed his speech, after thoroughly ventilating the fallacies of Barnabas and the Fathers, he said that Mr. Picton reminded him of a story he had read. Pompey and his master were out rowing upon the river, and as the master grew drowsy, he settled himself for a nap, telling Pompey to keep his eye on the North Star and to steer in that direction. Pompey himself grew drowsy, and when he awaked from his sleep, the boat had turned clear around and was headed in the other direction. He woke his master up, saying, “Massa, Massa, I’se sailed cla’r past the North Star, gimme another.” Mr. Picton had gone clear past the Bible, and now thought to find another star in the Church Fathers. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 11

Brother Corliss ended the debate by a solemn exhortation to the people, reining them up before the judgment bar when all would be called to give an account of the way in which they had improved their opportunities and valued their privileges. The people were so impressed with the way in which the truth had been brought out that they could not be restrained from hearty applause. The chairman’s efforts to hush them to quiet were in vain. The chairman said that aside from the spiritual benefits of the discussion, they had enjoyed a rare intellectual treat. They did not take an expression of decision on the merits of the debate; but the applause of the audience showed that their sympathies were on the side of the truth. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 12

Since the debate, there have been several ministers who have undertaken to pull down the bulwarks of truth. The Wesleyan minister, Mr. Ruttledge, who manifested so bitter a spirit during the debate, has not only himself preached against the truth, but has opened his church for others to explode Adventism. But those who attended these efforts said that there was nothing to review in them, but they were simply a reiteration of Picton’s arguments. Notwithstanding this fact, the Methodist paper has strongly commended Mr. Ruttledge’s sermon and has advised that it be published in tract form and placed where it can be ready for use whenever and wherever the Adventists appear. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 13

As a general thing a debate kills the interest, but in this case it has not had such effect. There is still a good attendance at the tent, and about twenty-seven persons have signed the covenant, and there are about twenty more who are keeping the Sabbath that have not yet joined the church. Quite a number who were much interested at first have either lost their interest or have become bitter opponents of the truth. But we thank God for the work that has been done, and that is still going forward. The people do not act as quickly here as they do in America, or as they do in other colonies; and it may take some time to fully develop the interest, but we hope for a good church in Ashfield. 9LtMs, Lt 123, 1894, par. 14