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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. Fitch-Presbyterian Western Apostle of Advent Message

    Next was CHARLES FITCH (1805-October 14, 1844), who came from Hampton, Connecticut. He was trained at Brown University, and after ordination to the Congregational ministry served successively at Abington, Connecticut; Warren, Massachusetts; and Hartford, Connecticut. 8When Charles G. Finney’s Broadway Tabernacle Church, in New York City, was organized May 13, 1836. in the newly completed giant tabernacle, built to seat three thousand, Fitch, then of Hartford, was secured to preach the sermon. He next read the roster of new members, and then the Declaration of Principles, the Rules, Confession of Faith, and Covenant, to which they all gave public assent. To close, he then pronounced them a church, and offered the benedictory prayer. This indicates the high esteem in which Fitch was held. (Susan H. Ward, The History of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, p. 28.) From thence he went to the Marlboro Congregational Chapel in Boston, in 1836, and later to Newark, New Jersey, and Haverhill, Massachusetts. His major contribution was doubtless made at Cleveland, Ohio, after he had become the western apostle of the advent message. Fitch’s interest in foreign missions is attested by his membership in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. 9Original certificate, dated Nov. 7, 1832, in Advent Source Collection. (Photograph appears on p. 529.)PFF4 533.2

    His concern over slavery is revealed through a pamphlet, dated 1837, entitled Slaveholding Weighed in the Balance of Truth, and Its Comparative Guilt Illustrated. The argument is clear and forceful, and the title page identifies Fitch as then “Pastor of First Free Congregational Church, Boston.” His courage and spirit are disclosed by such expressions as, “the press was bribed, the pulpit gagged, and the lips of the multitude padlocked”—as concerning slavery. A series of comparisons is presented: specifically, Roman Catholic subjugation to the pope, the making of ardent spirits, and the problems of theft, robbery, murder, and treason. “Every man has a tongue,” he adds pointedly, “and he can use it; he has influence, and he can exert it; he has moral power, and he can put it forth.” Then Fitch issues the summons: “Up my friends, and do your duty, to deliver the spoils out of the hands of the oppressor, lest the fire of God’s fury kindle ere long upon you.” 10Charles Fitch, Slaveholding Weighed in the Balance, pp. 5, 31, 32.PFF4 533.3


    It was while pastor of the Marlboro Street Congregational Church in Boston, early in 1838, that Fitch was given a copy of Miller’s Lectures, containing his views on the second advent. On March 5 he wrote to Miller, confessing an “overwhelming interest” in it, “such as I never felt in any other book except the Bible.” 11Ms. letter. Fitch to Miller, March 5, 1838. Painstakingly studying it, and carefully comparing it with Scripture, Fitch states that he had come to believe in “the correctness of your [Miller’s] views.” As a result, on March 4, he preached two discourses on the second advent, creating a deep interest. Then he adds that at a meeting of “our Ministerial Association” on March 6, he purposed “to bring up this whole subject for discussion, and I trust that I may thereby do something to spread the truth.” He arranged to secure a dozen copies of Miller’s Lectures for distribution, and asked a question regarding historical data that would sustain the view Miller had published concerning A.D. 508. He closed by declaring that as a “watchman on the walls” he desired to “give the trumpet a certain sound.”PFF4 534.1

    Fitch’s sermons produced a sensation in the community. But his ministerial associates treated the question with such searing ridicule and contempt that for a time he lost confidence in it, and lapsed into his former views of the world’s conversion. 12Litch, “The Rise and Progress of Adventism,” Advent Shield, May, 1844, p. 56. However, his mind was not at rest. He was dissatisfied, and thirsted for truth. He longed for holiness of life. That Fitch was a deeply spiritual man is evident from a series of letters, which have been preserved, that were written to his wife between 1840 and 1844. 13Originals in Advent Source Collection. The blending of human affection for the “dear companion of my heart,” together with his divine love for his Lord, is beautiful and impressive.PFF4 534.2


    Shortly after, while serving as pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church of Newark, New Jersey, to which he had transferred, Fitch wrote out his Views of Sanctification (1839). It was his statement of faith, and stressed sanctification by divine grace through the Word. This resulted in the appointment of a committee by the presbytery to confer with him over his views on perfection.” 14Charles Fitch, Views of Sanctification. Preface, p. 3. They in turn passed a “Resolution of Censure,” declaring Fitch’s views to be a “dangerous error,” admonishing him “to preach them no more.” Fitch answered in a Letter to the Newark Presbytery (1840), defending his views. Though the presbytery had passed the resolution of censure, he steadfastly replied, “I cannot regard your admonition,” and offered his reasons. 15Charles Fitch, Letter to the Newark Presbytery, p. 3.PFF4 535.1

    After years of unsatisfactory living, he had found, personally and experimentally, the enabling grace of Christ. He had learned the secret of reckoning himself dead to sin. The world had lost its charm, and his heart was filled with joy. He had entered into a new life—and supported his position with an imposing array of texts. He took this stand, he adds, “in view of an approaching judgment.” Then he avers, “If you still adhere to that opinion, I must consider myself as no longer of your number.” 16Ibid., p. 20. The presbytery must do to him as they think our Lord requires. This he soon followed with his Reasons for Withdrawing From the Newark Presbytery (1840), the title page adding, “By Charles Fitch, Pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church, Newark.” The Preface states that he felt called to preach the “blessed doctrine of sanctification by faith in Christ.” He recognized that if he did not withdraw he would be excommunicated. So he states, “I do hereby withdraw from you.” 16Charles Fitch, Reasons for Withdrawing From the Newark Presbytery, pp. 3, 12. Thus he bade adieu to his Presbyterian brethren.PFF4 535.2


    Fitch began to travel through New England and New York, then on to Buffalo and the new and undeveloped “West.” But in 1841 he was back in Massachusetts, at Haverhill, forty miles from Boston. Near the close of 1841 he re-examined the subject of the second advent. It was Litch, of Philadelphia, who had known of Fitch’s experience in 1838, who brought him again to the definite acceptance of the advent faith. He called at Fitch’s home in Haverhill, urging him to restudy the Bible doctrines on this theme and to write him on the result of his investigation. Fitch had read Miller’s book through, not for the second or third time, but for the sixth. 17“I devoured it with a more intense interest than any other book I had ever read; and continued to feel the same interest in it, until I had read it from beginning to end for the sixth time” (Fitch, Letter to Rev. J. Litch, on the Second Coming of Christ, p. 6). But he restudied the topic and wrote his 72-page Letter to Rev. J. Litch, on the Second Coming of Christ (1841). 18This cites the supporting testimony of Colonial preachers Cotton Mather and Thomas Prince. (On these see Prophetic Faith, Vol. II.) In this letter Fitch refers to the three and*a half years that had elapsed since his first reading of Miller’s Lectures, following which he had succumbed to the “fear of man,” 19Charles Fitch, Letter to Rev. J. Litch, on the Second Coming of Christ, pp. 8, 9. and had laid it aside. In it he also refers to his period of trouble and uncertainty and his preoccupation with the doctrine of entire sanctification.PFF4 536.1

    Later as Fitch explained his perplexities to Litch, the latter said, “What you need is the doctrine of the second advent to put with the doctrine of holiness.” Then Fitch again compared Miller’s teachings with his Bible, and studied all other available writings on the subject of the advent. Thus he gathered together all possible evidence. He reviewed the Lord’s leading ever since he had left Brown University. All this he brought before the Lord with fasting and prayer. His own words reveal his heart attitude:PFF4 536.2

    “When Dear Bro. Litch named the second advent, I went to the Lord; I read my Bible, & all the works that I could obtain. I possessed myself of all the evidences in the case that I could; & then with fasting & prayer I laid them & myself with my all before the Lord, desiring only that the Blessed Spirit might guide me into all truth. I felt that I had no will of my own, & wished only to know the will of my Saviour. Light seemed breaking in upon my mind, ray after ray, 8c I found myself more & more unable to resist the conviction that it was indeed the truth, that the coming of the blessed Saviour was at the door.” 21Ms. letter, Fitch to “Brother and Sister Palmer,” July 26, 1842.PFF4 537.1

    He passed through an intense struggle, fearing that he would be considered an outcast. He had lost many friends through teaching the unpopular doctrine of a holier plane of living. And now, by heralding the second advent he could expect only further alienations. It was like plucking out his right eye. But once convinced, he made the great decision, and threw his full ardor into the proclamation of the advent message. Fitch now found the ears of the people open to hear, and doors opened wide on every hand, as he joined Miller and Litch, and soon Himes and a steadily growing company of Adventist preachers. Fitch covered New England, speaking to large congregations. Indeed, he was unable to answer all the calls. Here are his own words:PFF4 537.2

    “And now so soon as I was ready to come out on the Second Advent, the door before me was thrown wide open, 8c I have been wholly unable for the last 8 months to meet one half the calls which I have received. Wherever I have been God has been with me. Since the 1st of Dec. last, I have preached as often as every day 8c about sixty times besides. I have been in all The New England States, congregations have been large in all places. Wherever I have been I have preached holiness. My usual practice has been to preach on Holiness in the afternoon, & on the Second Advent in the evening. I have seen saints sanctified & sinners led to Christ.” 22Ibid.PFF4 537.3

    Some turned against him; but many others accepted the advent truth, including Dr. W. C. Palmer and his wife Phoebe, who wrote many advent hymns, including the appealing—PFF4 537.4

    “Watch, ye saints, with eyelids waking;
    Lo! the powers of heaven are shaking;
    Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning,
    Ready for your Lord’s returning.
    PFF4 538.1

    “Kingdoms at their base are crumbling, Hark!
    His chariot wheels are rumbling;
    Tell, O tell of grace abounding,
    Whilst the seventh trump is sounding.
    PFF4 538.2

    “Nations wane, though proud and stately;
    Christ His kingdom hasteneth greatly;
    Earth her latest pangs is summing;
    Shout, ye saints, your Lord is coming.
    PFF4 538.3

    “Sinners, come, while Christ is pleading;
    Now for you He’s interceding:
    Haste, ere grace and time diminished
    Shall proclaim the mystery finished.”
    PFF4 538.4

    His travels by stage, steamboat, train, horse, and foot took him away from home most of the time, but he was joyous in his faith. The Signs of the Times commented, “This dear brother has come into the full faith of the Second Advent.” 23Signs of the Times, December 15, 1841, p. 144. From then on he was one of the most fearless, aggressive, and successful Millerite leaders.PFF4 538.5


    In 1842 Fitch was still at Haverhill, Massachusetts, as pastor of the Winter Street Church, which Apollos Hale usually attended. At this time Fitch, assisted by Hale, designed the famous “1843” prophetic chart, painted on cloth, which he presented to the Boston General Conference of May, 1842, of which Joseph Bates was chairman. Plans were there laid to proclaim the “Midnight Cry” more vigorously. After the presentation of the chart, with its graphic symbols and time periods, to the conference, three hundred lithographed copies were authorized for use by the Adventist preachers. 24Joseph Bates, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, pp. 10, 11. Fitch, in explaining it, told of his purpose to simplify and integrate the prophecies, and to make them so plain that whoever saw the prophetic message might read and run with it. (Habakkuk 2:2.) That he personally used a copy is indicated by his allusion to distress over its loss (but subsequent recovery) while traveling by stage between towns in Massachusetts. 25Ms. letter, Fitch to his wife, June 3, 1842. (Facsimile reproduction appears on p. 616.)PFF4 538.6


    Fitch was well educated, deeply pious, and a lover of truth. In appearance he was slender but well built, with an engaging smile and a genuine kindliness of heart. He was a cogent reasoner and a powerful preacher, deep solemnity characterizing his style. There was warmth and glow in his public address. His audiences were profoundly moved by his earnest appeals for preparedness to meet the Lord, and hundreds went forward for prayer at his altar calls, and found salvation. Here is an example:PFF4 539.1

    “To bring about an extensive and permanent reformation in this crazy world, I am convinced, is a hopeless thing. Never, till fire purifies it, and the wicked are destroyed out of it, and the devil chained and put into the pit, shall we have peace without—though we may within, thank God, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 26Midnight Cry, Feb. 3. 1843, p. 15.PFF4 539.2

    Fitch exerted a marked influence wherever he went. There were many more calls for his lectures than he could meet. Crowds gathered to hear wherever he spoke, people coming five, ten, or fifteen miles—a long distance in those days of primitive travel. In one of his letters he tells of “hastening over hill and dale to carry the light of God’s blessed truth.” 27Ms. letter, Fitch to his wife, June 14, 1842. Of his intensive labors he writes in two subsequent missives, and affords us a glimpse of their strenuous character:PFF4 539.3

    “I reached this place [Montpelier] at about half past twelve o’clock on Wednesday. I had then preached 13 times in a week, & attended many prayer meetings & then at the end of it instead of taking rest I had had a most fatiguing ride of 75-miles. A meeting however was appointed for me here on the evening of my arrival. Accordingly I went to bed, & after sleeping 2 hours 8c a half, I arose exceedingly refreshed, & preached in the evening. The audience was tolerable for numbers—though by no means such as 1 had left at Claremont. Yesterday I preached twice, & the audience in the evening was much increased. The spirit of the Lord was present, & truth had power.” 28Ms. letter, Fitch to his wife, June 17, 1842.PFF4 539.4

    A few days later he wrote:PFF4 540.1

    “This morning I Lectured at 5 o’clock on the 2n Advent—I expect to Lecture once or twice more, in the course of the day 8c evening. Tomorrow morning I leave for Richmond 60 miles toward the north west, where I am to tarry till Monday morning, when I set out for home. I have preached already 39-sermons since I left.” 29Ms. letter, Fitch to his wife, June 28, 1842.PFF4 540.2

    Fitch used interest-arresting visual-aid methods. When he lectured in the Big Tent on Daniel 2, he used a large statue made in sections to represent the great image. As he told of Babylon’s fall he removed the head, and so on with other sections. When only the feet of the modern nations were left, the people understood that we are truly living in the last days. 30Midnight Cry, June 6, 1844, p. 372.PFF4 540.3


    In the latter part of 1842 Fitch again started for the West, this time to proclaim the advent message. In those days the “West”—the territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Lakes—was sparsely settled. No railroads had as yet penetrated this region, but the rivers and great lakes were plied by steamers. And a canal connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River. Cincinnati, to which Enoch Jacobs had been called, was Ohio’s largest city, with over forty thousand population, while Cleveland, on Lake Erie, had as yet only some six thousand. But Fitch was asked to go to Cleveland and vicinity. So he brought his family and labored there for about two years. He and Elon Galusha and other pioneer Adventist ministers went out over the State preaching to the growing cities and little towns, such as Akron and Marietta, and the neighboring county seats. The people everywhere were receptive. They were, in fact, more ready to believe the advent teaching than were the people in many of the older sections of the East.PFF4 540.4

    The new settlers in Ohio were deeply interested in education, and had established schools, like Oberlin College, near Cleveland, where students and teachers alike supported themselves through the farm and industries and where Christian education was strongly encouraged. Despite determined opposition, a definite interest in the advent message developed at Oberlin through the preaching of Fitch. He had recognized ability and standing, of he would not have been given opportunity to deliver an initial series of lectures on the second advent at the college in 1842, doubtless through Finney’s friendship. A second series followed in 1843—though members of the faculty took issue with his positions. Of the growing opposition at Oberlin he wrote:PFF4 541.1

    “I have never seen the glorious truths of the Bible, teaching the kingdom and coming of Christ, met with more determined opposition, contempt and scorn, than they have been by the Oberlin Faculty; and never, in all my life have I felt such anguish at my heart’s core, or shed such bitter, burning tears as 1 have at their rejection of the Word of the Lord.” 31Ibid., Dec. 21, 1843, p. 167.PFF4 541.2

    In the latter part of 1842 Fitch, in Cleveland, was preaching in a large wooden church fronting the public square. Built in 1832 by the Congregationalists, it had been sold to the Presbyterians. In 1842 and 1843, in order to aid in the debt, the congregation first rented it part of the time to the second Adventists, and then sold it to them. Here Fitch preached nightly, his clear ringing voice reaching large congregations. 32O. J. Hodge, Reminiscences, p. 30. (Pictured on p. 542.) Hodge, who was present when the incident occurred, tells how Fitch—“a good speaker and a man of great energy”—on one occasion called upon the penitent to come forward for special prayer. The church had a gallery around the sides and the back, with two stairways leading down to the front.PFF4 541.3

    A big “lumbering fellow” started with others down the stairway, and stumbled while responding to Fitch’s altar call for repentant sinners to come forward. The crowd started to laugh. Fitch quelled this outburst with an apt remark, instantly calling out, “Never mind, brother, it is better to stumble into heaven than to walk straight into hell.” 33Ibid., p. 51. Early in 1844 contemporary newspaper editorials tell of Fitch’s acceptance and preaching of the doctrine of the final destruction of the wicked, 34Editorials, Cleveland Herald, Jan. 23 and Feb. 13, 1844. brought to him by George Storrs. This was similarly true of baptism by immersion, leading to some twenty, including Fitch, being baptized; and then of an instance when Fitch baptized twelve persons in the Ohio Canal in the piercing cold of March, amid a driving snowstorm.’ 35Ibid., March 18, 1844, p. 31. His own understanding of baptism is revealed in a letter to his wife: “Since I last wrote you I have been buried by baptism into the death of Christ.” 36Ms. letter, Fitch to his wife. April 16, 1844.PFF4 541.4

    (Upper) octagonal brick tabernacle, used in latter period of the advent movement at cleve land; (lower)) large cleveland church where fitch proclaimed the imminent second advent 1 of christ; (inset) presbyterian charles fitch, powerful preacher of the advent and the prophecies
    Page 543
    PFF4 543


    Not only did Fitch preach his message, but, like many of the lead ing Millerite ministers, he published a paper. He started a weekly journal, on January 18, 1843, called the Second Advent of Christ, which carried the advent message out over that western region where he could not go in person. It was conducted along lines similar to the Boston Signs of the Times and the New York Midnight Cry. It ably heralded the expected advent and expounded the prophecies along standard Millerite lines. Many of the articles and discussions with opposers, appearing in the Eastern papers, were reproduced. A second advent conference for Cleveland, scheduled for March 9, 1843, was publicized. 37Second Advent of Christ, March 8, 1843. Fitch’s discussion with the Oberlin faculty is presented in two numbers. 38Ibid.. May 10, 17, 1843. A second advent camp meeting is noted for June, 1843, at Warrensville, a few miles from Cleveland, 39Ibid., June 7, 1843. as well as other camp meetings in the West. There is a description of the newly erected big Boston Tabernacle, 84 by 110 feet. 40Ibid., June 21, 1843. And finally, the notable sermon by Fitch, “Come Out of Her, My People,” was published entire. 41Ibid., July 26, 1843.PFF4 543.1


    Fitch, who by 1843 was one of the most prominent of the Millerite leaders, preached this epochal sermon from the figurative language of Revelation 14 and 18—a mighty angel crying, “Babylon, the Great, is fallen,” followed by the warning voice, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” In this Fitch contended that Babylon was no longer limited to the Roman Catholic Church, as held back in Protestant Reformation days, but now included also the great body of Protestant Christendom. He maintained that, by their rejection of the light of the advent, both branches of Christendom had fallen from the high estate of pure Christianity. Protestantism was either cold to the doctrine of the second advent or had spiritualized it away. Fitch first published this address in the summer of 1843, in his weekly paper, 42Ibid. and then put it into pamphlet form. Later it was reprinted in various prominent Millerite papers. 43See Midnight Cry, Sept. 21, 1843.PFF4 543.2

    After the spring expectation in 1844, Elon Galusha preached in Cleveland in July, 44Cleveland Herald, July 6, 9, 1844. and William Miller and J. V. Himes out on a tour of the West, came to Cleveland, Cincinnati, and other points. 45Ibid., Aug. 12, 1844, p. 2. There they found crowds eager to hear them preach, while at the same time important developments were taking place in the East. According to the press, the “Round Tabernacle” (pictured on p. 542) was thronged in October by “Second Advent friends,” 46Ibid., Oct. 21, p. 2. waiting and watching in the Tabernacle on the fateful day and night of October 22. 47Ibid., Oct. 22, p. 3.PFF4 544.1

    The Cleveland Adventists had built this octagonal, or circular, brick church at Wood Street in 1844. It was sixty-two feet in diameter, with a sloping roof, and a cupola on top for the lighting. This was the scene of “enthusiastic and joyous meetings and the delightful music of those stirring themes.” It was early in October, 1844, when Fitch, with most other leaders—such as Himes, Litch, Bliss, and Miller—accepted the “seventh month” concept, looking to October 22 as the anti-typical Day of Atonement. Fitch was ill in Buffalo at the time, and someone read him the articles setting forth the “seventh month” view. 48Midnight Cry, Oct. 12, 1844, p. 124. This he embraced heartily.PFF4 544.2


    But Fitch did not have much longer to live and labor. He was in Buffalo, New York, in October, 1844, when a large number of new believers requested baptism. Others had not yet fully made up their minds. Arrangements were made, and the company who were ready went with him to the lake shore and were baptized in the chilly autumn water. A cold wind was blowing as Fitch started for home in his wet garments—for they had no protective baptismal robes or waterproof waders in those days. But just then he was met by another company of tardy candidates, on their way to the lake, who similarly desired baptism. So, cold as he was, Fitch went back with them and immersed them. And then came a belated third company who had at last made their decision. At their request he turned back a second time, and baptized them also. But Fitch was seriously chilled.PFF4 545.1

    Ill as he was from the effects of this prolonged exposure, he nevertheless rode several miles the next day in the cold wind to meet another appointment. This proved too much for him, and he was stricken down with fatal illness, doubtless pneumonia, which speedily brought on his death at the early age of thirty-nine. His last triumphant words on October 14, shortly before the day of expectation, were, “I believe in the promises of God.” It may confidently be said that none of the Adventist preachers was more widely loved than Charles Fitch. Courageous and resourceful, helpful and hopeful, he interpreted the love of God in word and deed, in the light of the second advent, to the thousands to whom he ministered.PFF4 545.2

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