The following is a very telling insight into the mind and circumstance of Brother Robert Roberts as he and Sister Jane Roberts prepared to leave England and their beloved brethren and sisters at Birmingham for what was to be the last time. To quote the publishers of Diary of a Second Voyage to Australia, “Here is an elderly man, of poor health, of profound persuasion in the Truth of the Gospel, of strong passions and sympathies, now battle-worn and weary, seeking to find some respite in the undeveloped colonies of the southern seas. He had been Editor of The Christadelphian magazine for 35 years, from its inception and had stood for the principles of Christ throughout those founding years in Birmingham, at the hub of the Truth and as the inspiration to a fledgling community now scattered from Aberdeen in Scotland to Invercargill and Dunedin in New Zealand, from Hong Kong to Guyana. The sole driving and uniting power that gave life to those dispersed remnants was the pen and mind and heart of Robert Roberts. The Truth of Christ was his total occupation and wherever there were believers of the Hope of Israel, never mind the circumstances, Robert Roberts was interested in them and the progress of their labours.”

Brother Roberts Addresses the Gathering

The farewell tea meeting was fixed for Thursday July 22nd [1897]. It was understood it was to be a private tea meeting, held in the Temperance Hall, for want of room at 64 Belgrave Road. Being a private tea meeting, Sister Roberts presided at the central table: her daughter Eusebia, at the table to her right, and Sarah Jane at the table at her other side. As for me, I wandered hither and thither, as opportunities invited. The meeting was a very animated one, with an undercurrent of sadness. Some said the flowers were out of place, that crape and plumes would have been more suited to the occasion. The answer was—the flowers (many of which had come from quarters unknown) were the expression of love and not of joy; and love was always in place among the friends of God, when joy might not always be possible.

After tea (the company remaining in their seats), I made a very few remarks. I said it might seem as if the meeting being held were a different sort of meeting from those in which they usually assembled. It was so only in form. It was necessarily somewhat personal, but there came time, when the affairs of the Truth took a personal form, and when such a form was not out of place. An example of this they would find in the 20th chapter of the Acts, where Paul, having occasion in a sea voyage to call at the Asiatic port of Miletus, sent to Ephesus, near by, and called for the leading brethren of the ecclesia there, to whom he made an intensely personal speech—reminding them of a certain three years he had spent among them, and of the burden of his speech and of the aim of his labours, and giving them certain advice in view of the fact that he would never see them again in the flesh. I could not say I would see their face no more, but I could say that for over 30 years I had laboured among them with one object only in view, however much unfriendly minds might doubt it, namely, to uphold the honour of God, and promote the well-being of man.

To Distant Lampstands

If I was going, it was not by my choice; it was through the compulsion of circumstances that had got beyond my control. And if I was going, it was not to new work, but to the same work in a new field. Nor was I going among a new sort of people, but the same class in another country—a class not much reckoned of by current methods of regarding people, but people of great estimation when reckoned according to Godʼs standard, which the world did not recognize—the sort of people described by God himself when He said that for them “that feared the Lord and thought upon his name”, “a book of remembrance was written before Him and they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels”. This class had been created on the other side of the globe by the agency that had created them here—the agency that had developed them in all ages of the world—the exposition and agitation of the things testified in the word of His Truth. The form of this exposition and agitation differed with the differing circumstances of the nineteenth century, but the result was in measure the same—the establishment of that conviction in good and honest hearts, which produced the faith that worked by love, and affected the mainsprings of human action, with the result of producing “the fruits of the spirit”, and “a new man in Christ Jesus”. The Truth had been revived in the nineteenth century by the instrumentality of Dr Thomas; the results of its agitation had been meagre both as regards the number who had come under its influence and the intensity of their assimilation to its power, as compared with the harvest of the apostolic age; but as compared with the darkness and the sterility that prevailed in the ecclesiastical communions for centuries, there was something to be thankful for in the green sproutings that had followed the modern sowing of the good seed. There might yet be a great improvement in this respect. All depended upon the extent to which the Scriptures were privately read. The Scriptures were the ultimate source of all spiritual power. They enshrined the facts and principles which, when transferred to the mind and heart in daily intimacy, became the purifying, and warning, and ennobling “power of God unto salvation”. The Scriptures had lost none of the power which Paul ascribed to them, when he said in the farewell speech delivered at Miletus, that they were “ able to build up and give men an inheritance among all them that were sanctified”. The parting advice he should give them would be to stick close to the Scriptures in daily methodical reading. They would soon get out of reach of their power if they neglected them: they would be astonished at their power if they gave them the place they ought to have.

Final “Practical” Advice

The only practical point he would press upon them in parting was the great importance of heeding the commandment which forbad “back-biting with the tongue and taking up a reproach against our neighbour”. It was expressly declared in Psalm 15, that they who indulged in that almost universal practice would not be admitted to the Kingdom of God. This was a future penalty of unspeakable terror; but even now, there was a terrible plague following in the wake of back-biting. Back-biting was to bite a person when their back was turned; to speak against them when their back was turned. The rule about the matter was simple. We were, of course, all of us more or less faulty and short-coming; but we were not allowed to speak about each otherʼs faults—still less to help in circulating reports that might be untrue. We were allowed to confess our own faults, or if our neighbourʼs faults were serious, we were allowed to speak of them to him “between thee and him alone”. We were not allowed to “go up and down among our people as talebearers” or to make ourselves “busy bodies in other menʼs matters”. Our part was to be silent about our neighbours unless you have something good to say. I took them to witness how often for thirty years past I had had to insist at management meetings on this rule, and to stop the mouth of the accuser in the absence of the accused, still more in the absence of that course of private interview for which the law of Christ called. I implored them to stand as with a drawn sword over this principle. Their present well-being as a community depended upon it, not to speak of their acceptability with Him who would judge us all presently by the standard of His revealed will. Nothing would sooner chill and disaffect and finally disintegrate them, and scatter them one from another than the habit so common among men of repeating evil rumours or indulging in personal criticism, or making charges on hearsay.

Remarkable Days

I was departing at a time that was remarkable in various respects and it was possible my departing might have a meaning not apparent either to myself or anybody else. I had been just forty years at work. I had just finished the public exposition of the Scriptures in Birmingham on a method that had taken us through the whole Bible, beginning at Genesis and finishing at Revelation. It was just thirty years since the temporal power of the Papacy departed. It was just 1,290 years since the setting up of the Roman abomination as the substitute for the Daily Sacrifice of Mosaic appointment. The Pope had just signalised the termination of this period by resuming, for the first time since its suspension in 1867 as the passing away of his power, the public display of his official pomp as head of the church. The Eastern Question was alive again, and in a state of dangerous combustibility. The Jews had called a convention of delegates to consider whether the situation were not favourable for the peaceable re-organisation of their national existence in Palestine under the suzerainty of the Sultan, who was favourable to them. These formed a remarkable combination as bearing upon the hopes we were justified in entertaining concerning the nature and development of the times we live in. Whether there was anything more than a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances time would show. There was probably something in it. Whether or no, it was good-bye for the present, and a step further towards that great goal of history and issue of destiny which in no way depended upon the experiences of any single generation. We should probably meet again in this mortal life; if not, our next meeting would be of much more consequence every way. And we could earnestly pray that God would give us a place together on the right hand of the throne.