The First Report of the General Conference of Christians Expecting the Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ




The brethren assembled in the Chardon St. Chapel, Oct. 14, at 10 o’clock A. M. J. V. Himes, the pastor officiating in this Chapel, took the desk, and read the following call of the Conference, with appropriate remarks. FRGC 5.5

The undersigned, believers in the Second Coming and Kingdom of the Messiah “at hand,” cordially unite in the call of a general Conference of our brethren of the United States, and elsewhere, who are also looking for the advent near, to meet at Boston, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1840, at 10 o’clock A. M., to continue two days, or as long as may then be found best. FRGC 5.6

The object of the Conference will not be to form a new organization in the faith of Christ; nor to assail others of our brethren who differ from us in regard to the period and manner of the advent; but to discuss the whole subject faithfully and fairly, in the exercise of that spirit of Christ in which it will be safe immediately to meet him at the judgment seat. FRGC 5.7

By so doing, we may accomplish much in the rapid, general, and powerful spread of “the everlasting gospel of the kingdom at hand,” that the way of the Lord may be speedily prepared, whatever may be the precise period of his coming. FRGC 5.8

Having read the call, a chairman pro tempore was called for, and Henry D. Ward was chosen. David Millard addressed the Throne of Grace. FRGC 5.9

The chairman made the following remarks on the object of the meeting:- FRGC 5.10

My Brethren and Friends:-We have convened on a great and solemn consideration, the near coming of our Lord in his kingdom It becomes us to understand, and to let others know, that ours is not a new doctrine. Sound Christians in every age have cherished it; it was the universal faith of the primitive church; it is the plain doctrine of the New Testament. The novelty which seems to characterize our views, takes its color from the errors of a fallen church, and will be entirely removed by the inspection of the gospel, and of the records of the ages of the martyr-church. FRGC 5.11

The disciples came unto Jesus, after he had told them of the overthrow of the temple; and they asked him of these things, when they should be, and what should be the sign of his coming, and of the end of the world. He replied to them at large; but of the time when, he replied particularly, as follows:- FRGC 8.1

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days of Noah, they knew not, until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” 1 Nevertheless, he taught them especially that the time would be short, and added, “Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” 2 FRGC 8.2

In his last discourse with his disciples, recorded in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John, he warns them of his being about to leave them; and promises them the Comforter; and, moreover, that he would be absent but “a little while;” only a short time. In chapter 16:16, he says: “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me; and, Because I go to the Father? They said, therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? We cannot tell what he saith.” FRGC 8.3

The same difficulty attends on “some of his disciples” to this day; they do not understand “the little while” he spoke of. They cannot conceive how it could embrace a period of eighteen hundred years; and, therefore, they do not know, neither can they tell what that means, “A little while.” But that it embraces the whole period from the Lord’s ascension to his second advent, is manifest from the fact, that the Holy Spirit was promised, and is given, to be the guide and comforter of his disciples during that “little while.” FRGC 8.4

The uncertainly of the time is everywhere set forth in the Scriptures, and frequently in the symbol of a thief in the night; and likewise its shortness is insisted upon in many remarkable passages. Among these, 1 cite that in Hebrews 10:37, where the apostle, having in mind their despondency under the protracted delay of the Lord’s coming, exhorts them to patience, that after they had done the will of God they might receive the promise, and not faint in their hearts, and so fall short of the glory of God; and then he adds, with the most vigorous expression, to assure them both of his coming, and that very soon, these memorable words: “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry;” he will make no unnecessary delay. FRGC 8.5

I could cite many passages of the same sort out of the Scriptures, but I content myself with one more, found in Revelation 22:20: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.” These are proofs that the Lord taught, in his last communications with his disciples on earth, that he should come again at an unexpected hour, and that quickly; not in the article of natural death, but in the clouds of heaven, and the resurrection of the dead. For “this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go in to heaven.” And his coming is by no means a daily event, or an occasion of national judgment, or any other thing, but this only: “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation:” 3 in the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead, in his kingdom. FRGC 9.1

That this was the manner in which the primitive ages of the church understood the Holy Word; is manifest from their records; but before I quote them you may please to hear the high testimony of two imperial Casars, to the same truth, from their throne of empire over the known world. FRGC 9.2

The first of these royal witnesses is Domitian, under whom St. John was banished to “the isle of Patmos for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Gibbon relates, on the authority of Eusebius and Hegesippus, that the expectation of the Lord’s coming in his kingdom, about the end of the first century, was so general, and so confidently entertained, that the report of it came to the cars of the emperor, and troubled him; as the coming of the wise men to Jerusalem at the birth of Christ troubled Herod, and all Jerusalem with him. Domitian had brought before him from Judea some of the royal seed of David, surviving; in grandsons of Jude the Lord’s brother; and he demanded of them if they were of the family of David. They said it was most true. Then the emperor would know what kind of a kingdom they expected, and when it would be. They replied that it is not a terrestrial kingdom, but celestial, and its time is in the end of this world. The emperor, seeing their hands were hard, and they were poor laboring men, despised them, and set them at liberty, not regarding the kingdom to come, if he might be allowed to have that which is now here. FRGC 9.3

The other emperor who is witness for our doctrine, is the nephew of Constantine the Great. His name is Julian, called the Apostate; because he was educated a Christian, and when he came to the throne, he disowned the faith, and restored the worship of the vain gods of the heathen. The Christians of that day, A. D. 360, feared lest he would turn to persecute them again; but in a letter preserved by Baronius, Julian assured one that he would not molest the Christians generally; but there are some, he said, who have made themselves rich on the plunder of the Valentinians, whose wealth he should distribute among his soldiers, that these believers might go lighter on their way to the kingdom of heaven, which even now they expect. Thus the apostate emperor taunted the believers of his age for their folly in continuing, even to that time, to look for the coming and kingdom of the Lord proclaimed in the gospel; and he mocked them for entertaining the hope of the Lord’s coming in his kingdom, which continued to distinguish the church in the fourth century. FRGC 10.1

From this testimony of crowned heads, and enemies of our faith, I turn to the witness of the early and eminent christian martyrs, to prove the same thing out of their meek lips, to wit: that they verily understood the gospel to be glad tidings of the near coming of our Lord in his kingdom, and in the end of this world, even as we believe at this day. FRGC 10.2

St. Clement of Rome, whose name is held in the highest respect among the Christians of antiquity, and who is counted a saint in the Catholic church, and by whose name our Episcopal brethren call one of their churches in New York, flourished A. D. 95; and about that time wrote two letters to the church of Corinth, in the name and behalf of the presbyters and brethren of the church of Rome. In the first of these letters, Clement speaks of the coming and kingdom of our Lord on this wise:-“Let that be far from us which is written: miserable are the double-minded, 4 and those who are doubtful in their hearts; who say, These things have we heard, and our fathers have told us these things; but, behold, we are grown old, and none of them has happened unto us. 5 O ye fools! consider the trees; take the vine for example: first it sheds its leaves, then it puts forth buds, after that it spreads its leaves, then its flowers, then come the sour grapes, and after them follows the ripe fruit. You see how in a little time the fruit of the trees comes to maturity. Of a truth, yet a little while, and his will shall be accomplished suddenly, the Holy Scripture itself bearing witness that he shall quickly come, and not tarry; 6 and the Lord shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Holy ONE whom ye look for.” 7 -Clem. 1 Corinthians 11:11. FRGC 10.3

The texts embodied in these words prove, that St. Clement entertained the same conceptions of divine truth, in which we are assembled together this day. FRGC 11.1

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, an illustrious martyr of the year A. D. 107, in a letter written at an advanced age, while he was waiting to be offered to the lions, said to Polycarp, “We ought to endure all things for God’s sake, that he may bear with us. Be every day better than other: consider the times, and expect him who is above all time, eternal, invisible, though for our sakes made visible.” 8 The injunction to “consider the times, and to expect” the coming of the Lord, was not more suitable A. D. 107, than it is in this day; and in accordance with its counsel we have come together to consider the times, expecting the approach of our Lord. FRGC 11.2

Justin Martyr, in his second apology to the emperor, Antoninus Pius, A. D. 150, section 7, says, “Wherefore God delays also to make the overthrow and dissolution of all the world, that wicked angels, demons, and men should survive no longer, only on account of the seed of Christians;-since unless it were so,-the fire of judgment falling, would dissolve all things,” etc. Thus we find this eminent martyr looking for the end of the world, and for the judgment day. FRGC 11.3

A. D. 192, Clement of Alexandria, in his address to the heathen, says, “Therefore, Jesus cries aloud, personally urging us, because the kingdom of heaven is at hand; he converts men by means of fear.” In the same fear, sinners become converts at this day; and we assemble together in the same view of the kingdom at hand which Clement urged upon the people of his age. FRGC 11.4

A. D. 250, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, a martyr, and one of the most distinguished fathers, in commenting on the Lord’s prayer, thy kingdom come, says, among other things, “We pray for the coming of that our kingdom, which has been promised to us by God, and was gained by the blood and passion of Christ. The kingdom of God, dear brethren, may stand for Christ himself, whom we daily wish to come, and for whose advent we pray, that it may be quickly manifested to us.” In the same spirit and hope we assemble here, praying for, and believing near, the glorious advent of our Lord in his heavenly kingdom, as St. Cyprian did, A. D. 250. FRGC 11.5

A. D. 350, St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, on the apostle’s creed, says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ then comes from heaven, and he comes with glory at the end of this world, in the last day. For this world shall have an end; and this created world shall be made anew; but as to the time, let no one be curious. And venture not thou to declare when these things shall be; nor, on the other hand, abandon thyself to slumber. For he saith, ‘Watch, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man Cometh.’ But seeing that it behoved us to know the signs of the end, and whereas we are looking for Christ, therefore, that we may not be deceived and perish,” etc. Precisely in the same sense with the eminent St. Cyril, of Jerusalem, we convene here this day, “seeing it behoves us to know the signs of the end, and whereas we” also are looking for the Lord’s appearing. FRGC 12.1

This Cyril was of the age of Julian the Apostate, who reviled Christians with, even to that time, expecting the King to come in his heavenly kingdom; which plainly Cyril deserved, and St. Chrysostom, and St. Jerome, and the multitude of later saints; but few Christians, however, would merit this reproach of the apostate, were he to cast it at them on the stage of life now. FRGC 12.2

We come here, my brethren and friends, to revive this apostolic doctrine, and to renew the faith of the gospel after the image of primitive Christianity. FRGC 12.3

We assemble here to awaken our own sympathies, together with the slumbering faculties of our fellow-Christians, to the doctrine of the Lord’s coming, as it was held by the great reformers of the sixteenth century: not to contend with opposers, not to dispute among ourselves, not to raise the banner of a new sect; but out of every sect to come into the unity of the faith as it is in Jesus, with charity toward all, ourselves in the exercise of christian liberty, and not afraid of obloquy for the sake of our coming Lord. FRGC 12.4

One word from John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, and of Paradise Regained; a name not to be despised by the men of this age, though he entered fully into the doctrine of the Lord’s coming, as we do at this day. In a prayer for England, he calls on the Lord, and concludes with saying, “When thou, the eternal and shortly expected King, shalt open the clouds, to judge the several kingdoms of the world, and—shalt put an end to all earthly tyrannies, proclaiming thy universal and mild monarchy through heaven and earth.” * * * FRGC 12.5

I have brought these things to your notice, that we may be able to meet at the very door all charges of “new light,” and novelty, which unlearned men are sometimes ready to cast upon the faith and practices of the primitive church, the reformers, and many of the most renowned of the clergy and laity of England, and of our own country. FRGC 13.1

The Conference sung the following hymn:- FRGC 13.2

“From whence doth this union arise,
That hatred is conquered by love?
It fastens our souls in such ties
That nature and time can’t remove.
FRGC 13.3

It cannot in Eden be found,
Nor yet in the paradise lost;
It grows on Emmanuel’s ground,
And Jesus’ dear blood it did cost.
FRGC 13.4

My friends are so dear unto me
Our hearts are united in love;
Where Jesus is gone we shall be,
In yonder blest mansions above.
FRGC 13.5

O why then so loath to depart,
Since we shall ere long meet again?
Engraved on Emmanuel’s heart,
At distance we cannot remain.
FRGC 13.6

And when we shall see that bright day,
United with angels above,
No longer confined to our clay,
O’erwhelmed in the ocean of love,
FRGC 13.7

O then with our Jesus we’ll reign,
And all his bright glory shall see,
And sing hallelujah, amen,
Amen, even so let it be.”
FRGC 13.8

A committee of nominations was appointed, to report in the afternoon. FRGC 13.9

Josiah Litch, of Eastham, occupied the remainder of the morning, enlisting the attention of the Conference to an elaborate discourse on Christ’s coming in glory. FRGC 13.10

Wednesday, Oct. 14, P. M.

The brethren engaged in singing, prayer, and social conference, until three o’clock, when the chairman took his seat, and the committee appointed in the morning made report, and accordingly the following appointments were made, viz: FRGC 13.11

David Millard, Josiah Seavey, J. Lord, R. W. Reed, Assistants. Henry Jones, P. R. Russell, Secretaries.

Committee of Arrangements. J. V. Himes, J. Litch, Joseph Bates, Charles F. Stevens, Stephen Goodhue. FRGC 14.1

Committee of Finance and the Roll. Daniel Merrill, Wm. Clark, Calvin French, Nathaniel Billings. FRGC 14.2

J. V. Himes read a letter from Bro. Miller’s son, Low Hampton, Washington Co., N. Y., stating the illness of his father, which deprived the Conference of much anticipated satisfaction in his presence. FRGC 14.3

The chairman then delivered a discourse on the history of the doctrine of the millenium, showing, from records of antiquity, the progress of the doctrine, and its changes, from its origin to this day; and also its incompatibility with the faith once delivered to the apostles and saints. FRGC 14.4

Wednesday Evening, Oct. 14.

Conference opened with singing and prayer, and mutual exhortation. Henry Jones presented some extracts and remarks on the Confessions of Faith and the Standards of the churches, relating to the second coming of Christ, etc., sustaining the sentiment of Mr. Ward’s discourse on the millenium. FRGC 14.5