(8th April 1839 to 23rd September 1898)

(4) Retirement, Travels and Death

Resurrectional Responsibility

The issue of the judgment of the believers, and  who would or would not be raised, was a difficult  question for many years, including while Brother  Thomas was still alive. Brother Roberts had  commenced a series on The Judgment Seat of Christ  as early as the October 1866 Ambassador.


Brother Thomas published Anastasis, a treatise  on resurrection and judgment, on 8th December  1866. On page 35 Brother Thomas clearly stated  the responsibility of the enlightened rejecter to  judgment:

“Nevertheless, if a sinner come to the  understanding of the truth, the result being the  same, he is held accountable. An enlightened sinner  cannot evade the consequences of his illumination.  I have known some of this class flatter themselves  that they would not be called forth to judgment;  but would perish as the beasts, if they did not come  under law to Christ. Such reasoning, however, is  simply ‘the deceitfulness of sin’.”

Page 35, 1947 edition; also

The Christadelphian, 1894, page 185

Following the burial of Brother John Thomas in  New York on 30th April 1871, brethren Roberts and  Bosher left Jersey City to visit most of the larger  ecclesias in North America. Their visits revealed  that at least four ecclesias were disturbed by the  doctrine of the judgment.

2. Brother JJ Andrew

Brother John James Andrew was the most prominent  brother in the ‘Resurrectional Responsibility’  dispute. From June 1893 a number of articles by  Brother Roberts and by various other brethren  dealt with the responsibility question. This was  evidently in response to the growing uncertainty  on the matter.

In April 1894 Brother Roberts wrote an  Editorial on resurrectional responsibility, and an  article on The Resurrection  to Condemnation: who  will come forth to it? in  response to a pamphlet  by Brother JJ Andrew –  The Blood of the Covenant.  This was the start of the  controversy that would  go on for the last four  years of Brother Roberts’  life and still prevails in  North America to this  day as the ‘Unamended  Fellowship’. The level of  disquiet in the Brotherhood led to Brother Roberts  going to London to debate with Brother Andrew.

The transcript of the debate was published  and has been reprinted since. Part of it has also  been included in the book Christadelphian Unity  in Australia: the Accepted Basis, because much of  the problem in Australia in 1958 (when unity  was achieved) related to the JJ Andrew/Thomas  Williams error more than any other false view, such  as ‘clean flesh’. Sadly elements of the Andrewism  error can still be found in Australia today.

3. The outcome

Brother Andrew’s ecclesia, London North, divided  over the doctrinal differences. Interestingly Brother  Bosher of London showed that Sister Andrew was  the originator of the error (The Christadelphian,  1894, page 477). By January 1898 the Birmingham  ecclesia had resolved to amend its ‘Statement of  The Faith’ to read:

“That at the appearance of Christ prior to the  establishment of the kingdom, the responsible  (namely, those who know the revealed will of  God, and have been called upon to submit to it),  dead and living – obedient and disobedient – will  be summoned before His judgment-seat ‘to be  judged according to their works’; ‘and receive in body according to what they have done, whether it  be good or bad.’ 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; Rom. 2:5,  6, 16; 14:10–12; 1 Cor. 4:5; Rev. 11:18.”

The Christadelphian, 1898, page 79

It is of interest to note that this occurred while  Brother Roberts was in Australia, never to return  to England, as he died in America on his way there.

Partial Retirement

1. First Voyage to Australia – 21st August 1895 to 19th August 1896

Brother Roberts began to consider the possibility  of travelling to Australia when, early in 1895, his  doctor advised him to take a sea voyage. By June he  reported that the Australian brethren had paid for  his fare to sail there. By August he had left England  for Australia.

He sailed on 24th August, stopping at Gibraltar,  Naples, Port Said, Colombo and Albany. On 1st  October he arrived at Largs Bay jetty in Adelaide.

On 7th October he took a train to Ballarat,  Leonard’s Hill, Daylesford, Bendigo and Inglewood.  In this area he found that several were affected  by the ‘Cornish’ error, a form of ‘Clean Flesh’. In  Melbourne, where he arrived on 14th October,  he met with Cornish. On 28th October he left  Melbourne for Beechworth, Albury, Moss Vale and  Sydney. There he found one large ecclesia of 106  members (Albert Hall), and three other smaller  groups separated on various issues.

Then on 16th November he travelled by train  to Newcastle, and from there to Toowoomba and  Southbrook. On 28th November he took the train  to Brisbane (an ecclesia of 40–50) and Gympie (an  ecclesia of 30). Here he rode a horse for the first  time and saw a koala.

On 10th December Brother Roberts sailed  from Brisbane for Rockhampton. He returned  on 18th December, then on to Sydney. From 7th  January to 10th March 1896 Brother Roberts’  travels took him to New Zealand. Here he visited  Auckland, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Woodville,  Dannevirke, Napier, Wellington, Port Lyttleton,  Christchurch, Sumner, Timaru, Dunedin (where  he had discussions to achieve reconciliation  between brethren regarding who should be chief  in the ecclesia, and on the role of sisters), Stirling,  Balclutha and Invercargill.

Brother Roberts reviewed his labours over the  previous five months (Adelaide to New Zealand).  He had visited 33 places; given 61 lectures and 37  exhortations; addressed 753 brethren and sisters;  and addressed about 10,000 strangers.

From New Zealand Brother Roberts returned  to Melbourne via Tasmania. Further travels took  him to Ballarat, Adelaide and Daylesford. He  began his return to England by travelling to  Sydney via Albury, stopping at Beechworth, where  he successfully achieved a reconciliation between  brethren separated over personal differences.

Brother Roberts reached Sydney on 8th May  where again he became involved in meeting with  brethren to achieve reconciliation. His farewell  words are illuminating of his physical and mental  condition at this time:

“In a few days, I shall be setting sail for  Vancouver, on my return home, and it occurs to  me to write a few words of farewell before going. I  depart with very different feelings from those with  which I landed on the shores of Australia about  eight months ago. My health is almost entirely  restored, and this alone makes a great difference to  one’s spirits. Besides this, God has permitted my  ideas and prospects a revival and enlargement that  open before me a new world by comparison. When  I landed, it was with a feeling that my day was over  and my work done. As I depart, I look back upon a  busier and more effectual work for the truth than  I have done during any previous eight months of  my life; and forward to a wider door of utterance  and a more fruitful field of ministration among  the saints than I have been permitted to use at any  time in the past.”

The Christadelphian, 1897, page 182

On 11th June Brother Roberts sailed for Canada,   stopping at Suva in Fiji, and Honolulu, reaching  Victoria in British Columbia on 5th July. From there  he sailed to Vancouver, and then travelled by train  to Toronto (where he met with brethren to attempt  reunion), Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia and  Boston. Here he had two meetings with brethren  with extreme views of ‘wilful sin’, and regarding  ‘marriage with the alien’. On 8th August Brother  Roberts sailed for Liverpool where he arrived on  the 16th to be met by Sister Roberts.

Indications that Brother Roberts may return  to Australia after his return to England were made  whilst still in New Zealand and Australia during  March to June 1896.

“Sympathising with the spoliations of  which I have been the victim; the brethren have  spontaneously put in motion a scheme to deliver me  from my burdens on the understanding that I will  in future abstain from business, that I will give the  Colonies something of my presence in days to come,  without requiring my total absence from England.”

The Christadelphian, 1897, page 103

2. Second Voyage to Australia – 27th July 1897 Onwards

The second journey to Australia, this time with  the whole family (Robert Roberts, Jane Roberts,  Eusebia Roberts, Sarah Jane Roberts and Amy  Wilkes), began on 23rd July 1897 when Sister Jane  Roberts and daughters Eusebia and Sarah Jane  left Birmingham for London. Brother Roberts and  Amy Wilkes left Birmingham on 27th July, all then  staying with Brother Roberts’ son Edward Augustus  and his family. They left for Melbourne on 2nd  August by train to Southampton and then sailed on  the SS Darmstadt. The journey included stopovers at  Genoa, Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Albany  and Adelaide.

Their home was to be in a house donated by  Brother Firth, called ‘Orient House’, in Coburg  near Melbourne.

“In Coburg, we are in ‘the country’, two-anda-  half miles beyond the post office – about half a  mile off the main road to the left, in the seclusion  of a cross-country road, stands Orient House, our  future abode – a large, square structure with a tower.”

The Christadelphian, 1898, page 145

3. Travels in Australia – 1897–1898

From 26th September to 26th December Brother  Roberts gave at least nineteen public lectures in  Melbourne. From there he travelled to Warragul,  Trafalgar, Tyers, Geelong, Albury, Sydney, Newcastle,  Toowoomba and Brisbane. Here he had news that  his daughter Eusebia had been united in marriage  with Brother Thomas H Firth.

From Brisbane he travelled to Gladstone,  Rockhampton and Ipswich. In Newcastle, he found  the ecclesia divided – 20 at Newcastle and 50–60  at Lambton. On 13th March there was a meeting  of both groups, and unity was restored. Hearing  that Sister Roberts was unwell he returned to  Melbourne, arriving on 20th March.

4. Tour of New Zealand – 25th May to 5th August 1898

On 25th May Brother and Sister Roberts sailed for  New Zealand via Hobart. On 31st May they arrived  at the Bluff near Invercargill. From there they visited  Riverton, Otautau, Stirling, Dunedin, Timaru and  Christchurch. This ecclesia had been affected by the  ‘Cornish’ heresy, and others were opposed to the use  of a ‘Statement of Faith’.

From Christchurch they travelled to Port  Lyttleton, Wellington, Napier, Palmerston, Wanganui,  Hawera, Stratford, New Plymouth and Auckland.  On 1st August they left for Sydney, a four day voyage.

5. Journey to North America – 1898

Brother Roberts left Sister Roberts in Australia  when he left for Britain. She returned to Melbourne,  while on 29th August he commenced his return  journey to Britain via North America, sailing first  to San Francisco (a journey of 3½ weeks).

He arrived in San Francisco on 21st September  where he stayed in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. That  evening he had an upsetting meeting with Brother  RC Bingley in the home of Brother Cheetham.

6. Death

On 23rd September 1898 Brother Cheetham arrived  at the hotel soon after 8:30am to help Brother Roberts  board his ship to Vancouver (which sailed at 10:30 am).  He soon discovered the body, Brother Roberts having  taken some heart medicine from a bottle. A doctor  diagnosed valvular disease of the heart.

When he heard of Brother Roberts’ death Brother  CC Walker sailed from Liverpool to New York to  bury Brother Roberts next to Brother Thomas.

His legacy

Brother Islip Collyer sums up Brother Roberts:  “It was most noticeable that Robert Roberts never  took the easy course. There was no lukewarmness in  his character. His convictions were overwhelmingly  strong, and they had to find expression, sometimes  with an emotional urge of dangerous intensity.  A medical doctor who was on board warned the  daughters that there was danger in such excitement  for a man of their father’s build.”

Robert Roberts, Islip Collyer, page 164

“From the earliest days he was a being apart.  In seriousness of outlook, in intellectual maturity,  and above all in knowledge of Scripture, he was so  far ahead of his contemporaries that hardly anyone  would venture to criticise him, unless it was in an  angry mood which would deprive the words of their  value. When at the age of 24 he became Editor  of the magazine, the separation was still more  marked. Plenty of bitter enemies with unreasonable  complaints, but no irrepressible and candid critic to  administer those salutary checks, which in a family  where love reigns, and where there is a reasonable  measure of equality, come so easily from a man’s  brothers or sisters …

We have encountered many ordinary men of  strong convictions who have proceeded to illogical  extremes, straining at gnats, and if not swallowing  camels, at least showing no objection to much larger  gnats. Their incongruities are not very obvious,  merely because their mental level is never very high.  The recollection of little faults in Robert Roberts is  painful just because he was a great man.”

Robert Roberts, Islip Collyer, page 166

Brother CC Walker said of him: “‘If thou  seekest a monument, look around’. For he did  much to make ready a people prepared for the  Lord.”

My Days and My Ways, page 287

His ‘monument’ can rightly be seen as the  worldwide Brotherhood today, and also by a list of  his major writings, most of which are still readily  available:

  1. The Bible Companion, reduced from the original seven to the present three portions per day (1853–1869)
  2. Twelve Lectures (1862), then, with additional chapters, Christendom Astray (1884)
  3. The Birmingham Amended Statement of the Faith (BASF), including positive and negative clauses and the Commandments  of Christ (1864–1898)
  4. The Ambassador of the Coming Age / The Christadelphian magazine, 34 years as Editor (1864–1898)
  5. The Golden Harp hymn book, and subsequent revisions (1864, 1869, 1874)
  6. The Slain Lamb (1873)
  7. Seasons of Comfort (1879), Further Seasons of Comfort (1884)
  8. Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse (1880)
  9. The Ways of Providence (1881)
  10. The Trial (1882)
  11. The Visible Hand of God (1883)
  12. A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias (1883)
  13. Dr Thomas: His Life and Work (1884)
  14. Letters to the Elect of God in a Time of Trouble, The Final Consolation (1885)
  15. The Christadelphian Instructor (1886)
  16. Nazareth Revisited (1890)
  17. The Blood of Christ (1895)
  18. England’s Ruin (1895)
  19. The Law of Moses (1898)
  20. True Principles and Uncertain Details (1898)
  21. The Ministry of the Prophets – Isaiah chapters 1 to 5 (1898)

As important as his writings and addresses are,  his example of profound care for all the brethren,  whether materially or spiritually, stands out,  especially his frequent efforts to bring about unity  between brethren. Like his Lord, “for your sakes he  became poor, that ye through his poverty might be  rich” (2 Cor 8:9).