Nelson Barbour

Nelson Homer Barbour, (1824-1908) a “Millerite” Adventist born in Toupsville, New York USA, is best known for his association with Charles Taze Russell from 1876 through 1881. After several years of wavering faith following the “Great Disappointment” of 1844 he began to study the Bible with the aid of numerous scholarly works that were newly emerging in the mid-19th century. He published his own work in 1869, entitled Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873, or The Midnight Cry. It went through several editions. Beginning in 1873/4 he started the publication The Midnight Cry but soon after changed its name to Herald of the Morning. Little is known about his private life other than what was printed in the newspaper biography appearing at the bottom of this page.

Desperate Changes

In late winter/early spring of 1876, Barbour received correspondence from Charles Russell who was on an extended business trip in Philadelphia. Russell had seen a copy of the Herald and was interested in the approach he was taking, and their scriptural viewpoints since they were similar to those discovered by a bible study group Charles T. Russell was Pastor of in Pittsburgh. Russell paid Barbour’s way to Philadelphia and the two compared notes, and shared their views with each other: Charles Russell enlightening Nelson Barbour on the nature of Christ’s return, the Ransom, and the errors of the creeds; Nelson Barbour, in turn, enlightening Russell regarding the harmony of biblical and prophetic chronology showing that the “harvest” had begun, and that the return of Christ, and the Rapture, were due to occur in 1874.

During their meeting Barbour informed Charles Taze Russell that his readership was dwindling due to the fact that his subscribers were mostly disappointed Adventists who remembered the “Great Disappointment”, but were now losing their faith due to the fact certain expectations for the year 1873/4 had not materialized. Russell encouraged Barbour to do all that he could to build his subscription list, and gave him several thousand dollars to begin the workings of a ministry which would result in the printing of the book Three Worlds; or Plan of Redemption in 1877, outlining their mutual viewpoints as of that time, along with The Object and Manner of our Lord’s Return written by Russell in 1874 illustrating that Christ returns to bless the earth, not burn it up. Christ is also to return invisibly, as a spirit, since he was resurrected as a spirit, and the Bible informs us that only his true followers would discern his return. The Herald magazine for the entire year of 1877 was divided up as the text of Three Worlds.

Failed Hopes

When, again, the expectations hoped for did not come to pass, Barbour and numerous other Adventist readers were heart-broken. Although Barbour felt intensely embarrassed and took responsibility for building what he called a “false hope” for his brethren, Russell believed this was an opportunity to figure out what happened. The chronology was correct, therefore there could not be any error in calculation. This meant, to him, that something went wrong with their expectations, and this lead him to carefully reconsider what the scriptures actually say about the ‘first resurrection’. Russell concluded that an invisible process had newly begun: as each of the faithful die, they do not sleep in death as those of old, but are immediately changed “in the blinking of an eye” at the moment of their earthly death. Barbour could not accept this reasoning, and attempted to divert his readers attention away from what he considered an error in the chronology. This circumstance lead to doctrinal debates in the pages of the Herald between Barbour, J.H. Paton, and Russell. Charles Russell or John Paton would write an article on some doctrinal point, and Nelson Barbour would add editorial comments, or discount it by an entire article. This went on for a while, until Charles T. Russell withdrew his association with Nelson Barbour, both physically and financially. In July 1879 Charles T. Russell began his own publication, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. The first issue contained a long, detailed supplementary article explaining why he had split from Barbour and why he was starting his own paper.

After their split, Barbour began to write articles which disputed some of CT Russell’s views and claims appearing in the Watch Tower. In 1880 he began to write his opinion about what the symbols of the Jewish Tabernacle meant. Charles Russell was solidly convinced Barbour was in error, and soon wrote Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices outlining, in great detail, what he and his study group believed was the true understanding of those symbols. At this point there is no more association between Barbour and Russell.


The Rochester Union and Advertiser for October 5, 1895, page 12, offers the following information on Nelson Barbour: (all spelling is as appears in article)

Nelson H. Barbour was born at Toupsville, three miles from Auburn, N. Y., in 1824. At an early age the family moved to Cobocton, Stueben County, N. Y. From the age of 15 to 18, he attended school at Temple Hill Academy, Genseco, New York; at which place he united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and began a preparation for the ministry under elder Ferris. Having been brought up among Presbyterians, however, and having an investigating turn of mind, instead of quietly learning Methodist theology he troubled his teacher with questions of election, universal salvation, and many other subjects, until it was politely hinted that he was more likely to succeed in life as a farmer than as a clergyman. But his convictions were strong that he must preach the gospel even if he could not work in any theological harness. And at 19, he began his life work as an independent preacher. Since which, all that is worth reporting in his life is inseparable from his theological growth. He could not believe in an all wise and loving Father, permitting the fall; then leaving man’s eternal destiny to a hap-hazard scramble between a luke-warm Church and a zealous devil. On the contrary he believed the fall was permitted for a wise purpose; and that God has a definite plan for man, in which nothing is left to chance or ignorance.

Mr. Barbour believes that what he denominated the present babel of confusion in the churches is the result of false teaching and the literal interpretation of the parables.

The Church of the Strangers was organized in 1879. Mr. Barbour has preached in England, in several Australian colonies, in Canada, and many states of the Union. For the past twenty-two years he has published the Herald of the Morning in this city; claiming that in his ‘call’ to preach, he confered not with flesh and blood. Nor was he called to convert the world; but independent of creed, to search for the truth ‘as it is in Jesus,’ the ‘second man Adam,’ believing that the restored faith is a precurser of the millenium and ‘Times of restitution of all things.'”