Tag Archives: Abner Jones

Abner Jones – A Bonus!!!

If you read the other posts this week, you’ll know more about Abner Jones than 99.9999% of the people in the world.  But, if all those footnotes scared you away, today’s post will hopefully make things a bit easier.

What you see below is the text of a lecture given by Bradley Cobb on the life and work of Abner Jones.   The focus in the first section is on how he was never at peace until he actually obeyed the gospel.  If you’d rather just listen to the lecture, then just click here and select the Abner Jones lesson.

This will also be included in the upcoming book, Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 2).


Abner Jones is not a familiar name to most people. And even for those who are somewhat familiar with the Restoration Movement, he is usually nothing more than a name to them. We think about Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and others, but Abner Jones is usually only given a passing notice—perhaps a sentence or two, if anything at all. Today, we will try to remedy that. Obviously, there’s no way of covering everything he ever did, but we’ll look at his life and see the things that he did to help restore New Testament Christianity.

One thing that I want to make very clear—Abner Jones was working to restore New Testament Christianity almost a decade before Alexander Campbell ever set foot on American soil.

Birth and early life:

Abner Jones was born in 1772, four years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Both of his parents were hard-core Calvinist Baptists. In fact, his father was a Baptist preacher. Needless to say, the idea of religion and eternal torment was pressed into Abner’s head from a very early age.

When he was eight years old, in the middle of winter, their family moved to Bridgewater, Vermont, which was basically a wilderness. The closest neighbor was around two miles away. They built a house completely out of logs. And in his autobiography, he makes it very clear that there were no planks, no windows, nothing except for logs stacked on each other. One side of their new home was left open, and they had a continual fire going throughout the winter.

Throughout much of his early life—even up into his 20s—Abner suffered from depression. This was not a clinical depression or some chemical imbalance, but instead it was an immense depression brought on by the thought that he might not be one of the “elect”, and that he might burn forever in hell. Calvinist doctrine teaches that man has no control over his destiny—that God determined whether you are going to heaven or hell before you were even born, and that you have no choice in the matter. Even before he turned ten years old, Abner said that he was fully convinced that he must be born again or be damned. He desperately wanted it, but his Calvinistic Baptist upbringing warred in his mind, telling him that it didn’t matter how much he wanted it—if God planned to send him to hell, that’s what would happen. Because of this, his depression continued—feeling as though life was pointless unless God had chosen you to salvation. And with that depression, Abner was more and more convinced that God hadn’t chosen him.

When he was ten years old, he went to a meeting (having prayed his usual prayer for God to have mercy upon him), and the message he heard made him feel alive inside. For a time, he took this to mean that God had saved him, that God had made him alive. But the feeling went away, leaving Abner more depressed than before. He did not then realize it, but his feeling of joy came when he first believed in Christ.

Because of his uncertainty about this experience, he determined to keep it to himself. However, he made the mistake of telling his mother’s nosey friend that he had a secret, and she hounded him until he told her. However, after making his confession of faith, he again had a feeling of joy. But, as he did not continue on the path to salvation, his joy subsided once more.

He admits in his autobiography that he felt the need for baptism pressing upon him, but he continually rejected it—likely owing to the teaching of his parents that baptism is of no importance. As he fought against being baptized, his depression grew more and more. One day he went to his mother and told her “I am going straight to hell.” Her response was that it was still possible that he was one of the elect. This caused even more depression, because as bad as Abner wanted to go to heaven, he felt he had no power to do anything about it.

For the next six years, he did everything he could to embrace universalism (the belief that everyone will go to heaven, regardless of how they live their lives). He went to dances (which he admits he knew was wrong), and spent his time with those who didn’t have any care for religion at all. But still there was a sorrow, a deep longing for heaven—and a depression because he had resigned himself to never being able to get there. And within there was also a fear of what his friends would say if he suddenly “got religion.”

It was during these years that he had a series of events happen that he describes as God’s judgments against him—judgments because he refused to be baptized. He got sick of fever so bad that he lost his apprenticeship in one place. While chopping wood, once, he missed and implanted the axe into his foot. During another incident when he was fighting even harder against God, he suffered a massive hernia that was never able to be completely fixed. From that point onward, he was unable to do any real physical labor.

Finding Religion

He went back home to Vermont, and there was quite the revival going on there. Abner felt ashamed of the life he’d been living, but still did nothing about it. His pride kept him from being able to publicly admit the need for salvation. Months went by, and finally he repented of his sins and determined to follow God. He began to pray a couple times at some Baptist meetings, but had not yet been baptized. He felt an intense inner feeling that he would someday have to preach.

It was upon reading his Bible and finally admitting to himself that baptism was a requirement of God for salvation that he finally submitted to the divine ordinance, in 1793. For months afterwards, Abner would occasionally preach the Calvinistic doctrines that he was raised with—but this didn’t last very long, because he was studying his Bible. He realized very quickly that the Calvinistic ideas of “predestination” and “election” were foreign to the Bible, and he rejected them.

It was shortly after this that he came to the realization that the name “Baptist” was never applied to the church in the Scriptures, and he rejected that as well. From that point on (1794), he determined only to use the name “Christian.” In his studies, he also realized the entire Baptist organization was unscriptural: the way one becomes a member of the Baptist Church, their confessions of faith, and their leadership councils. So he rejected all of them.

It was around this time that he got married and went into the practice of “physic” (he became a physic-ian). He began to build up some wealth with his medical practice, but he continued to feel the pressing urge: I need to preach. Eventually he completely gave up his medical practice.

The Christian Connexion

He went about preaching wherever he had the opportunity, calling people to follow only what the Bible says and nothing more. At this point, he was still aligned with the Baptist Church—though he expressly stated that he would not abide by any of their unscriptural doctrines or practices. In 1801, after ruffling many feathers in the Baptist Church, he planted a congregation of about 25 people, and they went by the name “Christians.” Later, Elias Smith joined forces with him, and they spread the wonderful news about the ability to become “Christians only.” These congregations were loosely joined together (like churches of Christ today), and as a whole, they were called “the Christian Connexion.” In 1802, A group of like-minded brethren came to him with an offer: We believe God has called you to preach, and so we are going to make sure your family is financially supported so that you can go about preaching wherever you feel God wants you to preach. Abner took this as a sign from God that preaching was what he was meant for.

Because he preached heavily against Calvinism, the Free-Will Baptists endorsed him, and even ordained him—though he refused to wear the name Baptist or to be associated with any of their confessions and practices that couldn’t be found in the Bible.

In 1804, and in the years following, Abner wrote and published quite a few hymnals—some of them with Elias Smith.

In 1805, some of the congregations gathered together and had a conference where they drew up articles of faith—old habits die hard. However, they quickly realized what they were doing, and “agreed that their articles were useless, and so they abandoned them, taking on the New Testament” as their guide.

Abner was content to let Elias Smith be the visible face in spreading the message of the Christian Connexion. Meanwhile, he was going around to churches, strengthening them and encouraging them. And these congregations grew, which Abner believed was God’s sign that he was doing the right thing.

He caused quite an uproar when he began preaching against drinking alcohol in any amount—but he held his ground. He also came under fire at one point because he joined the Freemasons. Because of the outrage of a few, he resigned his membership with that group, believing that Christian Unity was far more important than belonging to any social club.

The Decline

When Elias Smith drifted into universalism and basically left the Christian Connexion for a time, it dealt a staggering blow to the congregations—and to Abner. He went about trying to keep encouraging the members, but the one who had been their unofficial leader had abandoned the cause—and the people became quite disheartened. Abner Jones did not know what to make of this, because if growing congregations were a sign of God’s being pleased with him, what did it mean when the congregations were shrinking?

Because of an outbreak of disease, he again took up his medical practice while working with the congregation in Hopkinton. After six years’ work there, he returned to Salem—only to find a congregation in ruins, having turned completely to emotion as their guide. It took seven years, but Abner rebuilt the congregation. Meanwhile, the Hopkinton congregation had merged with the Baptists.

By the 1830s, the Christian Connexion was having annual conferences (the first one was convened to discuss how to deal with the fallout from Elias Smith’s departure), and was showing the signs of drifting into denominationalism. Many of the congregations were being led by people who were Unitarians (denied the three-fold nature of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Jones’ own son identified himself as a “Unitarian minister.” Another thing that was taking place in a couple of the Connexion congregations was that women were being allowed to preach. This was not widespread, and there is nothing to suggest that Abner Jones condoned or accepted it, but it was happening.

Perhaps the final death knoll came when a man named William Miller—a charismatic man—famously predicted the coming of Christ would take place on a specific date in 1843. By 1839, he had taken in close to half of the Connexion members with his lies. The other half was derided as being “faithfless” for not believing him.

The former leaders in the Connexion were gone. Elias Smith was no longer among their number. Abner Jones was approaching 70 and was “well stricken in years.” Daniel Hix, preacher for one of the largest congregations in the movement, had died the year before. And without strong leadership in the congregations, they became ripe for the plucking.

When William Miller’s date came and went in 1843, he announced a miscalculation and said it should be 1844 instead. Undaunted, those who followed him were even more determined than ever. When the date came and went (an event, which by the way is known historically as “the Great Disappointment”), many of those who were taken in by his lies were too ashamed to go back to the brethren they had made fun of previously. The Connexion suffered an irreparable split. Those who bought into Miller’s lies were too ashamed to face the ones who knew better. The ones who knew better decided they couldn’t put their trust in those who were so easily led astray. Ultimately, the Christian Connextion split into two separate bodies. One of them joined forces with other “Christian Churches” (like those led by Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone) or “churches of Christ” (back then, they went by both names). The other group stayed independent and called itself “The Christian Church” (not to be confused with the group today called the Christian Church). This group later joined with the “Congregationalists Churches,” and that group has come to be known as the United Churches of Christ.

Thankfully, Abner did not have to live to see the day when close to half of the people that he had worked so hard to teach the true gospel would fall away. He passed away in 1841.

The Christian Connexion (and Abner Jones) have been claimed as part of the history of multiple religious groups including the Seventh-Day Adventists (one of William Miller’s followers started that group), the Mormons (who claimed his restoration movement was to prepare the way for Joseph Smith in New England), and even the Jehovah’s Witnesses (because a hymn book by a different man named Abner Jones used the name “Jehovah” repeatedly).

Throughout his life, Abner Jones’ main desire was to simply be a Christian and to go to heaven.

Abner Jones – Part Four

Today’s installment concludes Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb).  If you missed the previous entries, you can click on the links below, or you can find this work in its entirety in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

His Final Years:

The Connexion’s Decline

While Elias Smith was busy being the visible leader of the Christian Connexion, Abner Jones was busy doing the work of a preacher. He moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 1809 where he traveled to numerous congregations in the area. He saw many converts, which helped to strengthen his faith. He believed that the people converting was proof that God approved of his preaching and was blessing it.[1] This mind-set led to problems down the road.

In 1815, He moved to Hopkinton, Mass. There he met with virtually no success, and the depression and doubt that plagued him as a younger man re-surfaced with a vengeance. Elias Smith’s return trip to Universalism “staggered the Christian cause in…the coastal areas.”[2] The departure of this very vocal leader proved quite the hurdle to overcome.

While in Hopkinton, Abner Jones stirred up quite a controversy in preaching on the evils of drinking alcohol, even in moderation. While there, he also joined the Masons. When public opinion began to sway against the Masons as a social group, Jones quit, although “he never believed them to be subversive to either Christianity or democracy.”[3]

The congregation in Hopkinton did not grow, and in fact became so weak that Jones was unable to support himself any longer. When an epidemic came through the town, he resumed his practice as a doctor. He moved back to Salem after six years of unproductive work in Hopkinton. What was left of the congregation in Hopkinton faded from what faithfulness they had attained and merged with the Baptist Church.[4]

Ups and Downs

Upon his return, he found the congregation in Salem in the throws of emotionalism. The majority of the congregation wanted nothing to do with a logical approach to the Bible, but claimed to be “moved by the Spirit.” The congregation was destroyed and Jones was left “to pick up the pieces” and rebuild a new congregation. After seven years, the new congregation was large and strong. During this time, Jones “practiced medicine, taught school, and gave instruction in singing.”[5] In 1830, this restorationist moved to New York in search of other fertile hearts.

His need for emotional reassurance weakened him in his stances on the truths of the Bible. He slowly drifted towards accepting emotional experiences as evidence of Christianity, contrary to his statements prior in which he described the emotionalists ones who “professed to be governed by the Spirit, and a most perverse spirit it was.”[6] In this, he stated that rash emotionalism was not from God, yet he was unwilling to stick with his convictions.

The movement started by Abner Jones, and for a time aided by Elias Smith, to go back to the Bible only had touched many people. But without solid leadership, it began to die out. The original congregation established by Abner Jones in Lyndon, Vermont had shut its doors and melted in with the denominations.[7] Many of the other congregations also faded from existence. However, in the 1830’s, there were signs of hope by more growth in certain areas.

The Death of a Dream

The original call was to leave denominationalism and go back solely to “the New Testament for their only rule of faith and practice.”[8] For a time, Abner Jones and company were well on their way to accomplishing it. However, because of various events and decisions, the group which came to be known as the Christian Connexion drifted off into denominationalism itself.

In order to deal with the effect of Elias’ Smith’s departure into Universalism, they convened a general council. This became a yearly event in which almost every congregation in the Connexion sent a delegation.[9] This yearly convention established a governing body similar to the councils which mark the Catholic Church of the first Millennia AD.[10] Smith did try to return, yet traveled back and forth with Universalism to the point where “his own brethren disciplined him because they refused to trust someone who was ‘blown about by every wind of doctrine’.”[11] By 1825, the conference of the Christian Connexion referred to themselves as “a denomination among denominations.”[12]

Another aspect where they left the pattern of the New Testament was in the organization of the local church. Many pleaded for a plurality of elders, although most of the congregations in the Connexion only had one elder, that being the preacher (this following the lead of the Baptists who referred to the preacher as an elder).[13] They also took to following the lead of other denominations in calling the preacher “reverend,” a word used in the Scriptures only in reference to God. Also, as early as the 1810’s, some of the congregations were promoting women to positions of preaching.[14] This was not widespread, but it was tolerated in many locations.

Perhaps the final blow to the dream of “Christians only” in New England was a man by the name of William Miller. This man claimed to have figured out the time for the return of Jesus Christ and pinpointed the date at “some time between March 1843 and March 1844.”[15] Because of his emotional speaking style and the direction in which the Christian Connexion was heading, Miller found ready listeners in those Christians. By 1839, nearly half of the Connexion had been taken in by his lies, and the other half was ostracized as faithless.[16]

Elias Smith was no longer a leader in the movement, but had completely left. Abner Jones’ own son was referred to as a “Unitarian minister.”[17] Daniel Hix, the preacher at one of the strongest congregations in the Connexion, had died in 1838.[18] The ones who had taken the abuse for trying to follow the New Testament pattern had gotten older and there arose a new generation that did not know what they had gone through, and were thus unprepared to combat this false teaching.

So caught up were the Christians (as well as others) in this prophetic end, that many farmers did not plant crops that year. The ones that did refused to harvest, for that would show a lack of faith. Many store owners simply sold out of merchandise and refused to re-stock. On the day in which the return was supposed to occur, the “faithful” who believed the sayings of Miller all gathered in church buildings. They prayed their hearts out for Jesus to return.[19] When the bells rang at midnight, it was like a funeral. Jesus did not return according to the false prophet’s timetable. People’s faith had died. They blamed Christ for not coming again. “Being misled by a false religion, they gave up searching for the true one.”[20] Those who bought into the lie couldn’t bear to face those who were wise enough to know better. Those who didn’t fall for the emotionalism of the Miller fiasco decided they couldn’t put their faith in those so easily led astray. The bridge between the two collapsed. As James Gardner put it: “the heart of the Christian Connection in New England died at midnight, October 22, 1844.”[21]

Thankfully, Abner Jones didn’t live to see that day. He died before he could see his dream of a unified church of Christ collapse. He died in 1841, in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Christian Connexion had become a perversion of what it was meant to be. In the years that followed, the Christian Connexion broke apart, and today various denominational groups claim the Connexion (and Abner Jones) as part of their history. Among these are the 7th Day Adventists, the United Church of Christ,[22] as well as perhaps Mormonism.[23] Some “Jehovah’s Witness” even claim Abner Jones was one of them.[24]


Abner Jones had the right idea, initially. He strove to become a Christian only, following nothing but what he could find in the pages of the New Testament. All who seek to be true Christians should emulate the principle for which he and other restorationists stood. In the end of his autobiography, Abner Jones gave a pleading warning to all of his readers to stop and look at their spiritual condition. The words which he gave were those of a hymn he wrote:

STOP, poor sinner, stop and think

Before you farther go.

Will you sport upon the brink

Of everlasting woe?


Hell beneath is gaping wide!

Vengeance waits the dread command,

Soon to stop your sport and pride,

And sink with you the damn’d.


O be entreated now STOP,

For unless you WARNING TAKE,

Ere you are aware you’ll DROP,

Into the BURNING LAKE.[25]



Ÿ  Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Electronic edition at: http://www.gravelhillchurchofchrist.com/ebooks/Burnett, J.F. – Abner Jones.pdf

Ÿ  Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957)

Ÿ  Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976.

Ÿ  Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913)

Ÿ  Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2009)

Ÿ  Gielow, Frederick, Jr. Popular Outline of Church History (Standard Publishing, 1926)

Ÿ  Haley, J.J. Makers and Molders of the Reformation Movement (Christian Board of Education, St. Louis, 1914)

Ÿ  Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ (Standard Publishing, 1919)

Ÿ  Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807)   Electronic edition www.GravelHillchurchofChrist.com/eBooks/Jones, Abner – Memoirs.pdf

Ÿ  Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones (Crosby, Boston 1842)

Ÿ  Mattox, F.W. The Eternal Kingdom (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR 1961)

Ÿ  The New England Christians, www.ChristianChronicler.com/new_england_Christians.html

Ÿ  North, James. Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Standard Publishing, 1994)

Ÿ  Olbricht, Tom. “Christian Connexion and Unitarian Relations 1800-1844” Restoration Review Vol. 9, No. 3

Ÿ  Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975)

Ÿ  www.PioneerPreachers.com

Ÿ  Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816)

Ÿ  Vogel, Dan. Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988), online text at http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/seekers/chapter1.htm

Ÿ  Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.” http://www.freeminds.org/organization/pre-russell/abner-jones-a-real-jehovah-s-witness.html

Ÿ  West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950)

Ÿ  Womack, Morris. Thirteen Lessons on Restoration History. (College Press, Joplin, MO, 1988)



[1] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pgs 75-77.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid. Pg 78.

[6] Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones. Pg 81.

[7] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 91.

[8] Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957). Pg 290.

[9] ibid. Pg 104.

[10] Mattox. Eternal Kingdom.

[11] New England Christians

[12] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 104

[13] ibid. Pg 105.

[14] ibid. Pg 106.

[15] ibid. Pg 146.

[16] ibid.

[17] Olbricht. Connexion and Unitarian.

[18] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 150.

[19] ibid. Pgs 151-156.

[20] ibid. Pg 156.

[21] ibid. Pg 157.

[22] ibid. Pg 151-157.

[23] Vogel. Seekers and Mormonism.

[24] Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.”

[25] Jones, Abner Memoirs. Pg 107.

Abner Jones – Part Three

This is from Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb) which is available in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

If you missed the previous installments, they can be found here:
Part One
Part Two

The Christian Connexion

Enter Elias Smith

In the years leading up to 1803, Elias Smith had basically come to some of the same conclusions as Abner Jones.[1] Like Jones, Elias Smith had turned to Universalism at one point, trying to find a way to soothe the sins of his childhood.[2] In 1801, Elias Smith (already a preacher) was convinced by his brother and was a Universalist for a period of 15 days before seeing he was embracing error.[3] Both Jones and Smith had determined that Calvinism was wrong and that there was no authority for the name “Baptist.”

During this time, Smith had also begun a congregation of five people. They acquired a meeting hall, but it burned to the ground in December of 1802. They were determined to carry on and to only “follow the New Testament order and wear the name, Christian.”[4] By the time he met Abner Jones again, the number of members had grown to ten. The small number was due in part to the fierce opposition to an independent “church of Christ…Christians without the addition of any unscriptural name.”[5]

Jones admitted to being influenced by Smith, yet it seems that when they met again in 1803, it was Abner Jones who did the influencing.[6] Elias Smith suffered from instability, not truly able to decide which path to follow. This is seen in that many times throughout his later life he flirted with Universalism. He thought that if Calvinism was false, “then universalism¾its polar opposite¾must be true. Smith accepted and repudiated Universalism five times.”[7] He had felt that he was the only one who had come to the conclusions against Calvinism. Smith says this about their meeting: “In June, 1803, about the time of this difficulty [fighting against Calvinism], Elder Abner Jones, from Vermont, came to visit me, and was the first free man I had ever seen.”[8]

Elias had some interesting religious experiences before, including the time when his mother tried to force him to be “baptized” by sprinkling. He took off running from the building in protest, only to be dragged back by his uncle. Thus he was forced into the Congregationalist Church that his mother attended. Within a few years, he reflected on that practice and went to the Scriptures for answers. He saw the New Testament truth that baptism was only for believers and was by immersion.[9] This was one of the main emphases that he brought with him when he and Abner Jones met once more.

The Union of Forces

Because of their similar beliefs and conclusions, Abner Jones and Elias Smith declared themselves in fellowship with each other. Thus the two small movements of just a few congregations, joined together and strengthened each other. Because they viewed themselves as Christians only, there was no need for a formal document to unify the forces. It was less than a year after this unofficial union that the congregation where Elias Smith preached reached 150 members.[10] In 1804, leaving Elias in the congregation at Portsmouth, Abner Jones started congregations in the city of Boston and places surrounding it.[11] The movement towards restoring the Lord’s church was moving forward.

In 1805, the congregations had a meeting “to draw up church articles.”[12] This was done because of the familiarity with church articles and creeds in all the denominations which surrounded them. Just as it was difficult to initially leave the ideas of their Baptist upbringing, it was hard to leave other things of which they were familiar and comfortable. However, this “Christian Conference…agreed that their articles were useless and so they abandoned them, taking only the New Testament” as the guide for all Christians.[13]

The brethren in New England were a connected group of Christians, and as such began to be recognized by the collective term “the Christian Connexion.”[14] This was not a term making them a denominational group, but merely a term to emphasize the fellowship between the different congregations. By 1807, there were 14 such known congregations in that area and twelve preachers working with them.[15]

In the southern states, as well as other places, more people had come to the same conclusions as had Jones and Smith. One such person was James O’Kelly, who led a group who left the Methodist Church, calling themselves “Republican Methodists.” At their beginning, in 1794, they claimed to have 1,000 members.[16] They had guiding principles for their movement, much of which mirrored what Jones and Smith were advocating. Soon afterwards, they decided to go by the name “Christian Churches.”[17]

Within the O’Kelly-led movement, there was dissention about the role of baptism. William Guirey was an influential leader in the Republican Methodists who believed in the necessity of baptism by immersion. He was very pleased to learn that others were going by “Christian” alone and that they also had come to the same conclusion as he had on baptism. By 1809, this group united with the Christian Connexion.[18] It is strange to note, however, that shortly thereafter, James O’Kelly tried to break up the newly-made union between the two forces because of his belief on baptism. It seems that he was holding on to his Methodist upbringing about faith-only being a “most wholesome doctrine and full of grace.”[19]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty

With Abner Jones spending his time preaching, Elias Smith became the leading voice in the newly-united movement. Though he had less than a year of formal education, Elias Smith was an able writer and speaker. He started a publication near the end of 1808 called The Herald of Gospel Liberty which he was the first religious periodical to ever be published.[20] It initially had 274 subscribers.[21]

That these Christians had become aware of some other restoration movements around the still-growing country is obvious from this periodical. On the back page of the first issue, Elias Smith printed¾in full¾“The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.”[22] The Springfield Presbytery was a small group of Presbyterians who realized many of the errors of Calvinism and of man-made religions. Unfortunately, in protesting one man-made religious body, they created another. They did see their error, and this document, written in 1804[23], was the official dissolution of their group, as well as a call to only follow the Bible.[24]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty was as unstable, however, as Elias Smith himself was. The publication was moved numerous times in the decade of its existence. At one point there were over 1,000 subscribers to the paper. In the final issue of this periodical, Elias Smith announced “that he had gone into universalism.”[25] There is some well-founded speculation that Alexander Campbell was familiar with that paper. Campbell was at the very least, acquainted with who Elias Smith was, as well as his doctrinal position. James North relays this:

The Stone Movement had been called “Christians.” But Alexander Campbell did not like that term. Because the Smith-Jones Movement also used the same term; and because the Smith-Jones Movement was tinged with a good deal of Unitarianism, Campbell was convinced the term was tainted.[26]

Smith did start another publication called the Christian Herald, which lasted a bit longer than his previous paper. With the changes in stances, Smith’s influence waned and the publication was bought out by a publishing company.



[1] Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2008) Pgs 19-20

[2] North, Union In Truth, pg 25.

[3] New England Christians

[4] West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950) Pg 14.

[5] Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816). Pg 320-321

[6] North. Union in Truth, Pg 26.

[7] New England Christians

[8] Smith, Elias. The Life of Elias Smith. Pg 321

[9] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg20.

[10] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 14.

[11] North. Union in Truth. pg 26.

[12] West. Ancient Order I, Pg 14

[13] ibid.

[14] Olbricht. Christian Connexion.

[15] North. Union in Truth. Pg 26

[16] ibid, Pg 16.

[17] ibid, pgs 18-19,

[18] ibid, pg 27.

[19] Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976, pg 242.

[20] Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975) Pg 18.

[21] Womack. Thirteen Lessons. Pg 54.

[22] North. Union in Truth. Pg 63.

[23] Womack. Thirteen Lessons . Pg 62.

[24] Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913) Pgs 149-150.

[25] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 15.

[26] North. Union in Truth, Pg 164.

Abner Jones – Part Two

The following comes from Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb) and is available in the book Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

We continue our story, already in progress from yesterday

What to Preach?

Baptist Doctrine?

Slowly, he began to get involved and pray and to preach at some meetings, but as of yet was not baptized, which was not a surprise considering that it is not deemed necessary for salvation in the faith in which he was raised. The urge to be baptized, though, weighed heavily on him. He finally followed through with this in 1793 at age 20 by Elisha Ransom, a preacher from the Baptist Church.[1] Six days later, Abner Jones became reacquainted with Elias Smith, a friendship which would later lead to great strides towards restoring the New Testament church.[2]

After a few months, Abner was regularly preaching things he had been taught, all the while looking into the Scripture and wondering how some of the Baptist doctrines could be right. He searched for evidence to prove Calvinism was in the Bible, but “discovered that they [the Baptist preachers] preached complete contradictions on the subject.”[3] He was very confused about these things, and he took to seeking the inspired word’s message on the matters. He discovered, as did many others in the Restoration Movement, that many of the doctrines he had been embracing were not to be found in Scripture.

The first problem he noted was the name “Baptist.” He correctly discovered that there is no group of “Baptists” in the Bible. From that point onward, he determined to be called nothing but a Christian.[4] After that, he looked into how Baptists founded congregations. He looked at the articles of faith, the church covenants, their constitutions, and their leadership counsels and found that they were all, as he calls them, “anti-Christian” and “as popish and unscriptural as infant sprinkling.”[5] They were traditions of men, and not from God. When these things were presented before the minister of the Baptist congregation, Abner was told that those things to which he objected were necessary, though the man could not recall the Scriptures that commanded them, “because they were not in the Bible.”[6] Other Baptists acted as though he was insane and that he “had denied the Bible.”[7]

The Fight Against Calvinism

From that point, Abner Jones fought vigorously within his mind against the ideas of Calvinism,[8] especially that of predestination;[9] but he did not make his views public for almost five years for fear that he would be viewed as a castaway.[10] He assumed that he was the only one in the world who finally understood the simple truth contained in the Bible, not realizing that many other people in the United States were coming to that very same conclusion at around that same time.[11] During those five years, he felt lonelier and lonelier as he struggled against the knowledge which was in him. It is during this time that he became a medical doctor, practicing what was called “frontier medicine.”[12]

When he finally gave up fighting and turned back to the Lord in 1800, many asked “what has befallen Dr. Jones?” or said “he is a little deluded, he will soon get over it.”[13] After this return to following what he had found in God’s word, he proceeded to preach to whomever would listen. A man by the name of Peck invited him to come speak in his house to all the neighbors he could round up. He was shortly thereafter invited to many more houses in the area to preach. Many more requests of him were made in subsequent meetings.

Because of filling these meeting requests, his medical practice suffered. His wife was worried about what would befall them and their family with the lack of funds coming in. He reminded her that, before they were married, he had told her that he knew he would eventually have to preach. He had told her that if that was not acceptable, not to marry him.[14]

It was in 1801, in Lyndon, Vermont, that Abner Jones began a congregation of “Christians only.” Disagreeing with the Baptists, they called their congregation a “Christian Church.”[15] Some historians argue for different years, some stating this took place in September of 1800[16], while still others present a date of September of 1802.[17] His son states that it was September of 1801.[18] This simple congregation of just over a dozen members set about to go back to New Testament Christianity.[19]

In February, 1802, a surprising event occurred. Three men among many to whom he preached pulled Abner Jones aside and stated “we understand that you have a family, and we believe the Lord has called you to preach. And we conclude it is our duty to take your family and take care of them, in order that you might be liberated to preach.”[20] After a time, he took them up on their offer and felt free to preach without concern for his family’s well-being.

One of the places where he went to preach was Hanover. The people of Hanover, New Hampshire responded well to the message of free-will that Mr. Jones preached. The only doctrine they had heard, perhaps in their entire lives, was that of Calvinism. They had taken that false doctrine to heart and understood it to mean that nothing they did mattered: if God wanted them to be saved, they would be, if God wanted them lost, there was nothing they could do to change His mind.[21]

His preaching against the tenants of Calvinism led him into great favor with the Free-Will Baptists. They ordained him a minister in 1802.[22] This was done, not because he agreed with them (for he still taught that the name “Baptist” was not scriptural), but because it gave him more clout and freedom to go about with places to preach. During this time, the Free-Will Baptists accepted him readily, even though he “refused to submit to their rules and regulations.”[23] He insisted that he was a “Christian only” and that the congregations he established were not Baptist, but Christian churches. Within the next few years, Jones established congregations in Bradford, Vermont and Piermont, New Hampshire.[24]


[1] New England Christians.

[2] Mattox, Eternal Kingdom, Pg 313.

[3] Jones, Memoirs, pg 59

[4] New England Christians.

[5] Jones, Memoirs, Pg 61.

[6] ibid, 63.

[7] ibid.

[8] Gielow, Frederick, Jr. Popular Outline of Church History (Standard Publishing, 1926) Pg 184.

[9] Olbricht, Tom. “Christian Connexion and Unitarian Relations 1800-1844” Restoration Review Vol. 9, No. 3 (1966).

[10] ibid, 66

[11] Womack, Morris. Thirteen Lessons on Restoration History. (College Press, Joplin, MO, 1988) Pgs 52-55.

[12] New England Christians.

[13] Jones, Memoirs, Pg 75.

[14] ibid, 99-100

[15] North, James. Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Standard Publishing, 1994)   Pg 26.

[16] Haley, J.J. Makers and Molders of the Reformation Movement (Christian Board of Education, St. Louis, 1914) Pg 43.

[17] Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ (Standard Publishing, 1919). Pg 64.

[18] Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones (Crosby, Boston 1842)

[19] Haley, Makers and Molders, pg 43.

[20] ibid, 103

[21] ibid, 106-107.

[22] New England Christians

[23] ibid.

[24] Vogel, Dan. Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988), online text (see Bibliography).

Abner Jones – Part One

Roundhouse started yesterday (and Happy Birthday, Brad!), and that means almost two full weeks away from the computer.  But we don’t want to leave you with nothing to read during that time!

So this week, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about a man named Abner Jones.  He was a preacher from the late 1700s/early 1800s who realized that his denomination was teaching and binding things that were not in the Bible.

By the time you read all the posts this week, you will have read the entire work, Abner Jones: Christian Only by Bradley Cobb (which is also included in Abner Jones: A Collection, Volume 1).


His Early Life

From Childhood to “Conversion”

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Four years earlier, in Royalton, Massachusetts, Mr. and Mrs. Asa Jones[1] had their fifth child, a son. The Jones’ had both been raised as “Calvinist Baptist[s],”[2] and proceeded to bring up their own children, including newborn Abner Jones, in the same way. Asa Jones was a preacher for the Baptists, whose “prayers and admonitions” weighed heavily on young Abner’s mind, even as a young child.[3] Abner himself later confessed that this time was spent with “much concern” about his eternal well-being.[4]

At age eight, amidst the War for Independence, Mr. Jones moved the family to Bridgewater, Vermont.[5] At this point, the area was basically wilderness,[6] and the family built their home out of trees that they cut from the area. Being the first family to move into that area, their nearest neighbor was at least two miles away.[7]

Throughout his youth, Abner was tormented by depression. He felt a constant struggle for inner happiness which could not be found. He sought for it in religion, desperately looking for peace. In his Memoirs, Jones says the following: “But to return to the situation of my mind…I know not a better similitude than the wilderness in which I then dwelt…dreary and melancholy.”[8]

One summer, a series of events happened in Woodstock, Vermont which turned many people’s minds towards religion. Indians plundered some nearby towns, worms destroyed most crops of all the farmers in the area, and a hunting accident involving the decapitation of a man caused the people¾including Abner Jones¾to think about their eternal life. These events caused him to reflect, but he felt “ashamed to let anyone know that [he] felt concerned about [his] soul.”[9] Because of this, he kept his thoughts secret.

This young child felt the need of religion, and was “fully convinced that [he] must be born again or be damned.”[10] At age ten, the need he felt was even stronger. He heard of a meeting wherein many people were converted, but this did not satisfy him, because of the depression he felt. He said that even at this time, “all was darkness and gloominess.”[11] He still fought against religion, thinking that even though he needed it, it would not satisfy his mind.

It was about this time that he went to a meeting where a Baptist preacher named Snow was speaking. On his way there, he prayed for God to have mercy upon him. He desperately desired that he would receive some relief from his terrible condition that night. When he arrived, all appeared to be gloomy, and he resigned himself to knowing that this day would be no different than the rest. About this event, Jones relates:

I do not remember that the thought ever passed my mind that religion yielded any joy or peace; all the advantage I thought of, was that it would save the soul from eternal misery; and on that account I felt desirous to obtain it; feeling fully satisfied of my lost undone situation… (though I cannot say that I saw myself hanging immediately over hell as some have discovered themselves).[12]

At that meeting, however, Abner suddenly felt alive inside. He observed the preacher speaking of something not melancholy, but joyful. Asa Jones arose and spoke some more words which seemed to his son as something he had never before heard from his father. At the time, Abner thought the difference was not with his own perception, but with the speakers who spoke of joy and gloriousness. Inside, Abner finally felt peace.[13]

This inner joy was short-lived. The happiness crept away, and he did not understand why. Many days passed when the thought of Luke 15:24 entered into his mind: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found.” According to Jones, this is the first time that a Scripture went to his heart. He took this to mean that he had been dead in sin, but was at this point alive in Christ. He said “from that moment, a hope sprang up in my soul for eternal life.”[14] Many times afterwards, though, he did doubt that this was truly the moment of his salvation.[15]

Years of Rebellion

After the events previously described, Abner determined to keep his “conversion” to himself for the rest of his life. This did not last very long because he revealed to his mother and one of her friends that he had a secret. This knowledge led to the women harping at him until finally one of them guessed the secret. When he finally acknowledged it, he felt once again free from the depression that seemed to plague his early life. It was only later in life that he was able to see that the events of happiness coincided with his belief (as mentioned earlier), and here with his confession of Jesus before others.[16]

His joy remained for a short period of time, after which he realized that the Lord had commanded for all who believe to be baptized. Instead of obeying the command which he knew was from Christ, he shrunk back from it. This cast him into a deep depression, a “darkness that might be felt.”[17] This depression lasted for several months, and during that time his only happiness came from knowing that he would eventually die and be freed from this earth.[18]

He knew he needed to be baptized, but continually fought against it because he felt he was too miserable of a person. It was due to this refusal that he says of himself “I wandered in darkness.”[19] He went to other meetings trying to regain the hope and joy which he had earlier felt, but to no avail. One night, the realization sprang upon him that his “soul was eternally undone.”[20] He understood his completely lost condition at that time and knew God would be justified if He were to send Abner to hell at that moment. He spoke to his mother the next morning and told her “I am going right to hell.”[21] Being a Calvinist, his mother tried to convince him that he might be among those predestined, but he fell into a depression deeper than he had ever previously experienced.[22]

From this point onward, though there were moments of light, he began to stop caring about God, and he hardened his heart towards religion. When his father died in 1786, Abner’s heart was hardened even further. His oldest brother came to Vermont shortly thereafter. This brother was a worldly person, dedicating his life to the pursuit of merriment and arguing against religion. He was “in favor of universalism”[23] which is the doctrine that everyone will be saved, regardless of how they live.[24]

For the next six years, Abner did everything he could to embrace universalism in an effort to ease his conscience. As a result of embracing this doctrine, he “led a rather immoral life during his teen years.”[25] He set about to banish every thought of religion from his mind. He determined that if anyone should ask of him why he had changed, he would give no answer at all. This refusal to answer shows that he understood the things in which he involved himself were wrong. He was now determined to follow after “vanity and folly.”[26] Though he felt empty inside, his pride kept him in his sin. In order to quench thoughts of his need to follow God, he carried on even more in the vanity. There were times where he thought he should return to following God, but the thought of what his friends would say made him abandon the thought.[27]

His attempts at becoming rich all ended with sickness or injury. He tried being an apprentice, but a severe sickness incapacitated him and he had to return home. In January of 1791 while cutting wood, he accidentally chopped into his foot. It was at age eighteen that he exerted himself to the extent that he burst himself, apparently a reference to an extremely bad hernia. The surgeons were unable to adequately fix his problem, so from that point onward he was unable to do any physical labor.[28] He made one last go of business, but that ended with a terrible fever that lasted for weeks.[29] Abner viewed all of these injuries and illnesses as God punishing him for not being baptized. Yet still he ignored God’s command.[30]

He went back to Bridgewater, where a reformation of sorts had taken place. There were many new “converts” in the city, and finally he was convinced to go to meeting. Before the meeting was over, Abner Jones realized his completely “awful situation.”[31] This event, more than any other to that point, made him realize that he needed to turn to the Lord. He reflected on his past with shame, knowing he had ignored what he knew to be right. Even so, he did not do what he knew he must and remained in that situation for months.[32]

[1] www.pioneerpreachers.com

[2] Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807) Pg 4.

5 ibid, 5.

[4] ibid, 5.

[5] The New England Christians (see bibliography)

[6] Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Pg 6

[7] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 5.

[8] ibid, 7

[9] ibid, 10.

[10] ibid, 11.

[11] ibid, 12.

[12] ibid, 12-13.

[13] ibid 13-14.

[14] ibid, 15.

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid, 17-19.

[17] ibid, 19.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid, 23.

[21] ibid, 24.

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid, 25.

[24] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

[25] New England Christians.

[26] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 27.

[27] ibid, 28.

[28] ibid, 33.

[29] ibid, 38.

[30] ibid, 29-33.

[31] ibid, 42-43

[32] ibid, 43-44.

Restoration Moments – An Example of Providence

This week’s Restoration Movement Moment comes from “Memoirs of Abner Jones” (written by his son), which will be in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 2), to be released later this year.

Abner Jones was convinced that the event which he describes here was an act of God’s providential care. Enjoy!


It was in the spring of 1813, as I think— for the regular journal of Elder Jones is here interrupted — that he removed his family to Portsmouth. He found the church and society feeble, and religion in general in a very low state. His tarry in Portsmouth was but of two years’ duration, in which time, although not much occurred of interest to him, many memorable events took place. The war [of 1812], then but recently declared upon Great Britain by the United States, was raging fiercely on the New England coast, and Portsmouth suffered its full share of the excitement and evil. The place was completely blockaded by the British fleet for a number of months, and the inhabitants were greatly distressed, and lived in a constant state of terror. Alarms were frequent, and the town pre­sented the constant appearance of a besieged city.

Several regiments of troops were quartered upon the town, and provisions became exceedingly scarce and dear. Those who could leave their affairs, had already removed to a safer retreat, while many others were ready, with their household stuff already packed, to start at the first booming of the enemy’s cannon. Among these was Elder Jones.

When the enemy appeared off the town there were scarcely any bulwarks of defense to repel the attack of so formidable a foe, and I remember the consternation which prevailed. I think it was on Saturday. The next day the churches were closed, for the worshipers were all draft­ed to turn out and throw up redoubts on the most defensible points at the entrance of the town. There was a general turn out from all professions and avocations, and without respect to the day. In the evening, however, the churches were opened and thronged, and many a prayer was raised to the “God of battles,” that he would scatter their foes, and send them peace.

In the midst of all this distress, the horrors of the scene were dreadfully increased by an aw­ful conflagration, which burned down a large part of the town, and rendered many families, not only houseless, but penniless. Nearly three hundred dwelling houses were consumed, and nearly four hundred families were turned into the streets in one of the coldest nights of De­cember.

“It was,” says Elder Jones, who was an eye witness to the whole scene, and rendered very efficient help on the occasion, by his remarka­ble presence of mind and great activity in sav­ing property and life—and whose daring gener­osity nearly cost him his own life during that awful night—“it was indeed a deplorable sight. Whole streets presented a double line of flame, or a dark and confused mass of smouldering ruins. The goods and furniture either perished in the buildings, or were only thrown into the street to make a bonfire by themselves. Wo­men and children, with disheveled hair, and eyes that spoke too plainly their grief and terror, ran shrieking through the burning streets, either in search of some relative or friend, or too de­mented to have any definite object in view. Here was a distracted mother despairingly call­ing on her husband and children, there the heart-broken father and husband inquiring for his wife and children; and the little ones wandering to and fro, piteously crying for their parents. Some, again, were gazing on the ruin going on all around them in a perfect stupor of grief and sur­prise. No tear bedewed their cheek, no sound escaped the lips, no motion was made by any member of their bodies, and they started not at the fearful crash of falling houses, or the hoarse cry of the brazen-throated firemen.

“A police was organized as soon as the con­fusion would permit. Property was protected as far as was practicable, and all the children who were found destitute of protection were picked up and taken to a place of safety.

“Many were the maternal bosoms who mourned their little ones as dead, in the awful gloom of that memorable night. What a joy then to behold the scene which opened the morning of the next day! The children were all assem­bled in the town Hall, to the number of a hun­dred or more, and the crier sent forth with his bell to announce to all whose children were missing, that they were waiting for their appear­ance. Then flocked the weeping parents to the spot, hoping and fearing. Oh! what a meeting was that, and what pen shall essay the vain at­tempt to describe it! Not a child was missing and not one but found its parents. In all that dreadful burning not a human life was lost, and but one person suffered the fracture of a limb.”