Our Editorial highlights the fact that this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the first visit of Brother Robert Roberts to Adelaide. Although many may have read or heard of that visit it was thought a good opportunity to reflect upon the outstanding value of his service to the Brotherhood. It may also give opportunity to introduce his works to some who have only a limited knowledge of the heritage we have gained from his labours, and encourage us all to familiarise ourselves with his writings which have been a rich source of spiritual help to so many.

At the time when the visit to “the colonies” was suggested to Brother Roberts it was met with mixed feelings. He was at a very low ebb healthwise and the pressures that rested upon his shoulders as editor of The Christadelphian and recorder of the Birmingham meeting were very weighty. Added to this, the ecclesias had suffered the “to and fro” of the doctrinal issue with J.J. Andrew, one who had laboured with Brother Roberts for over twenty years. The pressure that this brought upon Brother Roberts in both debate and writing had taken its toll. Then came the stress of division. Another difficulty had also arisen through Brother Roberts’ generous and committed spirit to help brethren and sisters in need which had brought him to face financial disaster personally through several failed business ventures.

Background to the Visit

 In Australia and New Zealand ecclesias were developing in number and size, as the “intelligence” section of The Christadelphian for the time indicates. The Christadelphian was the source of guidance and encouragement to the many brethren and sisters who were scattered in small numbers throughout the country. Sadly the false doctrines of “Renunciationism” and “Resurrectional Responsibility” had been espoused and propounded in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, causing faithful brethren to separate from the errorists. Through these brethren the suggestion was communicated to Brother Roberts that he come and visit the ecclesias to strengthen the brethren and sisters in Australia. Added to this proposal there were those close to him in the UK who felt that a sea voyage and the opportunity to remove himself from the pressures he daily faced might grant him the chance to recuperate.

The original thought was that Brother Roberts would sail to Australia through the Suez Canal and return the same way, thus making his absence as brief as possible. However, it was soon realised that to travel back across the Pacific and through America would take virtually the same time. The American and Canadian brethren, realising the opportunity to have Brother Roberts visit them too, wrote urging him to come home that way and so it was concluded to make a round the world trip – a trip that would take just on twelve months.

We sometimes fail to appreciate the extensive drain that such a trip would place upon a man of 56 years who was in poor health. When we read, “Sister Roberts considers it best she should stay at home”, all those who have enjoyed the comfort and support of a companion through poor health, and personal and ecclesial difficulties, should be able to grasp in measure the sacrifice that this decision would entail. He wrote in The Christadelphian for the month he left the UK as follows: “Shortly after this meets the eye of the reader, the Editor will set sail for Australia, if the Lord will. He departs with considerable reluctance for many reasons, but with the confidence which an enlightened view of life inspires, that all circumstances, even the undesirable and untoward, contribute their part to the evolution of divine ends”. Again he wrote, “Very rough circumstances have coerced me”, alluding to the events that caused the trip to be undertaken.

Today we may not appreciate the peril that faced sea travellers in the 1890’s. Thus he writes in conclusion to the notice regarding his trip in the August 1895 Christadelphian, “In a few months if all goes well, the Editor will return to his post. He confesses that he has no strong desire in that direction, as nothing will be more to his mind than that he should be prevented from coming back, either by the Lord’s reappearance in the interval, or (which will be the same thing to him) by the occurrence of any of the possible misadventures by which the rest is to be attained, in which myriads of the saints of God are waiting, some in the dust of the earth, some in the water of the ocean, for the day of manifestation in joy and praise.”

 These sentiments remind us of the words of Paul: “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil 1:21-24). Brother Roberts thereby committed his destiny to the will of the God he loved and served.

Arriving in Adelaide

 It was after a long and often difficult journey of six weeks from London that Brother Roberts arrived at Port Adelaide on Tuesday, 1 October. He wrote a diary of his trip and visit to the Australian Ecclesias, which provides most interesting and enlightening reading. After clearing Customs, he disembarked, remarking, “What a piece of barbarism this is”, as he writes of his ordeal with customs officers. He landed at Largs Bay and journeyed by train to Adelaide in the company of brethren who had gone to meet him.

He spent a week in Adelaide, staying at the home of Brother and Sister Macdonald in Hutt Street. Commenting on the layout of the city, its beautiful parks and other features, he concluded, “The place is, therefore, as healthy as it can be made for mortals”, and again, “It is a model city … doubtless a specimen of the kind of place that all cities will be turned into in the happy days of righteousness”.

The Adelaide Ecclesia numbered some 50 members in those days. On the Wednesday night he spoke at the Bible Class on the subject, “Without Holiness No Man Shall See The Lord”. Several meetings were held in the evenings and on Sunday he spoke at the Memorial Meeting and lectured in the evening. The brief visit was soon over and on Monday, 7 October, he left by train for Ballarat and the rest of the ten month journey that lay before him.

Reflections on his Visit

 As we reflect upon the labours of brethren and sisters one hundred years ago we wonder at their dedication and sacrifice for the benefit and strengthening of their brethren and sisters. In his “spare time” on this trip he submitted monthly to The Christadelphian a chapter on The Law of Moses which was written during this twelve month journey.

The faithful and diligent labours of such brethren and sisters have been blessed and the Truth has prospered in this city. There are now many ecclesias, over a thousand Christadelphians, and a very large number of young people and children. But what of the city now? Its beauty has been greatly marred by the moral degeneration of these last days, and the speed of life makes it hard for us to stop and behold the beauty of its parklands. Surely if Brother Roberts were to visit us today his Bible class subject would not be changed, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” – how we battle to maintain holiness in this evil environment!

The mutual sacrifice associated with this trip made by both Brother and Sister Roberts is a salutary reminder that the love of God and our brethren “beareth all things, endureth all things”. They patiently endured their long separation that others might benefit from Brother Roberts’ labours in our country. May that same spirit of sacrifice on behalf of others and a loving care for the ecclesias be seen in all our dealings with one another in these last days as together we await the return of our Lord.

“He was frequently uncomfortable both physically and mentally: a lover of home so often going away, a lover of peace so often having to do battle for principle, a lover of fellow man feeling constrained to choose a course which turned friends into enemies. In a very real sense he was one who lost his life for the sake of the gospel.”