Early Watchtower History
Aaron P Riley (1856 - 1896) of Hucknall, Notts: “A Voice in the Wilderness”
This is the story of a prominent Hucknall Torkard headmaster who experienced a religious conversion and his struggle to spread his new-found faith in his home town. (Some of this material first appeared in an article in the Hucknall Torkard Times in March 2013.)
Aaron Powell Riley was born in early 1856 at Clay Cross, Derbyshire. His father, James Riley, was a coal miner. Aaron had two younger brothers, George Dawes (born 1858) and Frederick (1864). Aaron excelled at a Derbyshire School for Miners’ Children and was rewarded with prizes when he was aged eleven and thirteen. In 1871, he was a pupil teacher at Clay Cross. Meanwhile, Hucknall Torkard was booming because of the rapid expansion of local coal mining. The influx of young families and the demands of the 1870 Education Act resulted in the building of two new Board Schools which included Butlers Hill School. This opened on 6 February 1877 and Aaron was appointed as Headmaster – a testament to his character and ability. In 1881, he was living with his parents in school buildings on Bestwood Road, Hucknall and probably supporting them as his father was now unemployed. News reports indicate that Aaron was involved with the Methodist New Connexion Trinity Church at Hucknall. His brother, Frederick, was also a Methodist. Aaron’s musical abilities received more and more publicity. In 1878, during an entertainment called, ‘Uncle Tom’, a ‘choir led by Aaron sang the choruses and solos in first- rate style’. The next year, he conducted an entertainment featuring children from Butlers Hill School. For three years from 1880, he was involved in the annual gypsy festival at Hucknall Public Hall, leading a choir of sixty voices and training performers. Also in 1880, at a Wesleyan soiree supporting a fund for a new chapel, Aaron took part in the musical part of the programme. Then, at the Methodist New Connexion Chapel at Bethesda Road, Hucknall during the annual Harvest Thanksgiving Service, selections from ‘Ministry of Flowers’, were given by a number of children under Aaron’s leadership in 1885. The location of the last performance confirms Aaron’s religious leanings at that time. The Methodist New Connexion was a Protestant nonconformist church formed in 1797 by withdrawing from Wesleyan Methodists after a dispute over the position and rights of the laity. Based in Sheffield, England, it thrived and spread across Britain. The ‘Uncle Tom’ show noted earlier was held in the Methodist New Connexion Trinity Church at Hucknall (shown below from 1873).
Aaron was not alone in his Methodist beliefs. In 1881, his brother, George, was a student of theology at the New Connexion College, Upper Hallam, Sheffield. He was admitted to the college in June 1880 and on 29 December 1881 he was described as “Rev G Riley of Sheffield”. Later that year, the Nottingham Guardian reported ‘a conversazione (sic) at Hucknall Torkard on behalf of Bethesda Chapel (shown below) trust fund. The magic lantern was manipulated by Mr A P Riley. A short address was delivered by Rev G Riley.
We now turn our attention to certain events on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1879, Charles Taze Russell launched a new monthly religious magazine, ‘Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence’ (ZWT). Its pages included letters from readers. A letter from Aaron was published in September, 1885 – and Russell noted ‘Hucknall Torkard’ as its source. This epistle of 1885 was not the first time Aaron had written to Russell. He mentioned in passing that he was ‘forwarding another small sum towards whatever fund most needs help’. He also referred to when he ‘last wrote’. Aaron may well have sent CTR letters in 1882 and possibly 1883 which were also published in ZWT (see later). Were his frequent letters the reason that Aaron was named by CTR? Certainly, a pen-friendship was building between the two men. So, when was Aaron first exposed to Russell’s teachings? The answer may be gleaned from his comment in 1885 that, ‘I was only a nominal Christian until after 1881’. In that year, Russell arranged for 300,000 copies of the 162-page book, Food for Thinking Christians (FfTC) to be distributed in the principal cities of Britain. A letter in ZWT dated 8 November 1881 related that ‘thousands of copies of your book’ were distributed in Nottingham. Perhaps Aaron read one of these copies. A letter to CTR from a correspondent in Nottingham dated 1882 was possibly written by Aaron and mentions the impact of FfTC on the writer – “I have read with much pleasure the little book, Food for thinking Christians….I may say that I fully endorse a great deal of the new teaching and shall adopt it for the future”. However, by 1885, he was experiencing considerable inner turmoil as he came to terms with his new religious experience. Firstly, Aaron was concerned about his personal contribution to the spreading of Russell’s views. He wrote that he longed ‘to be able to preach the glad tidings, but it seems sometimes as though I had to keep all the good things to myself’. He restricted himself to ‘a word here, a word there’ and added, ‘it seems very slow work’. Secondly, Aaron was confused and uneasy about his own position as a Christian according to Russell’s teachings – ‘I don’t know what member I am’. Was his, a higher calling to life in heaven or was he ‘a meek inheritor of the earth’? A man alone, Aaron had no-one with whom he could discuss his dilemmas. He plaintively voiced this feeling of isolation when he exclaimed ‘I do long for the fellowship, face to face with another who holds Zion’s Watchtower’s teachings as fully as myself.’ Aaron was a religious Robinson Crusoe – with no ‘Man Friday’ with whom to share his feelings and spiritual thoughts. Despite this, he had some encouraging news to report: ‘Since I last wrote to you, my brother (George) who was in the Methodist ministry has ‘come out of her’ (i.e. left Methodism)’ and while not accepting ‘all my views’ he was ‘very much more in favour of Zion’s Watch Tower....teachings than he was some time ago’. Aaron described his personal position as ‘a most peculiar one’. As Russell encouraged his followers to leave their Churches, Aaron reported, ‘I have had my name taken off the books and refuse to subscribe towards the (Methodist) connectional funds, but the people with whom I have laboured so long are not willing that I should leave them.’ Not only was Aaron experiencing a radical change in his spiritual life, but his personal circumstances had also altered. In the summer of 1883, he married Pledwell Celia Bailey at Leeds. In around 1877, Pledwell, a tailor’s daughter, had begun teaching at Butlers Hill Girls School. Aaron and Pledwell’s first daughter, Florence Anne was born in the summer of 1884. Aaron spent a week in a convalescence home in December 1885. He confessed, ‘I have not had it all smooth since resigning all membership and office in the old church’ but he was delighted to find a companion, an old gentleman, with whom he could ‘correspond on points dealt with in ZWT’. In the spring of the following year, Aaron’s second daughter, Dora Nellie, was born. He also took delivery of the first volume of Russell’s ‘Millennial Dawn’ which he greeted with ‘unspeakable satisfaction’. Now, consider Aaron’s life-style. He had been married for three years and had two daughters. His work burden at school was increasing. He was engrossed in study of Russell’s literature and was still ‘quietly doing what we can’ but there was ‘no marked improvement in the work here’. In February 1887, he wrote that he had received six copies of ‘Millennial Dawn’ which had been ‘loaned out at work’ and requested another seven to send to friends in different parts of the country. He felt ‘this is just the sort of work I can do’. A gap of five years follows in Aaron’s published correspondence with Russell. During this time, a third and last daughter was born in 1888, Gladys May Riley. Russell visited England in September 1891and held a meeting at London. His audience included Aaron and Pledwell. Not only did Aaron strike up a correspondence with “Sister Horne” as a result of this excursion but he and his wife met and spoke personally with Russell. In a letter published on 15 March 1892, the fervent follower, Aaron, poured out his appreciation for Russell’s ‘ever-to-be-remembered visit’. However, he also expressed a tinge of regret. Russell had suggested that he take up ‘the Colporteur work’. This was a special ministry when individuals broadcast Russell’s teachings full time. It would involve Aaron resigning as the School Headmaster. He had to weigh his responsibilities of caring for his wife and three young daughters against his heartfelt religious inclinations. He needed time to think – ‘this I felt I could not undertake without further consideration. I would have been so glad to say ‘Yes’ to you but something held me back’. Perhaps Aaron was trying to justify his decision when he continued to write that he held ‘a class of twenty to thirty men every Sunday morning for a Bible lesson’. He was also ‘always on the lookout for the sheep and lambs’ and believed for the present that his ‘influence is greatest and best exerted where I am’. For the first time, his letter was signed, Aaron and P C Riley – evidently Pledwell supported his choice. Aaron continued to write to Russell. In 1892, meetings were being held in his home at Butlers Hill School House and his ‘little band’ was making ‘its influence felt’. However, he was concerned about the negative effects of warnings in ZWT of members being led astray by false teachers. He returned to this theme in February 1894: ‘We are finding it a very trying time...instead of increasing, our numbers are getting rather less’. For promising disciples the novelty wore off, “trials come and they stumble”. At least, Aaron and Pedwell were able to recharge their spiritual batteries when they met like-minded friends during a visit to London over the Christmas holiday. Then came Aaron’s last published letter to Russell, appearing in ZWT on 15 January 1895. He was still ‘tempted to mourn over the small outward fruitage of our work’ but he was supplying local libraries with sets of ‘Millennial Dawn’. Ominously, Aaron added, ‘I have just been laid aside a little through sickness’. The Butlers Hill School logbook for 1896 takes up the story: 19 November: Messrs. Goodall & Houldsworth visited the school and placed me in charge during Mr. Riley's illness. 23 November: Ordered bell to be rung on account of serious illness of Headmaster 26 November: Mr. Rowe visited the school and left word for the school to be closed on Friday, 27 November on account of the funeral of the Headmaster After an illness lasting six days, on 24 November 1896, Aaron died of pneumonia aggravated by pleurisy and cardiac failure. He was forty years old.
He left a problem in his wake: How should he be buried? The simple solution would have been for his will to contain instructions about his internment. But Aaron died intestate. How would his widow arrange to bury him? Indeed, did she even fully accept and follow her husband’s religious leanings – sometimes Aaron appended her name to his letters to CTR; sometimes he didn’t – and she later worshipped as a Congregationalist and was a Congregationalist Sunday School teacher? Were there even any local followers of Russell who were in a position to conduct his burial service? In the event, Aaron was buried at Broomhill Road, Cemetery, Hucknall. The service was conducted by Frederick Goodall, a local Methodist preacher. Perhaps this poignant occasion emphasized more than anything else how isolated Aaron had been. Almost the whole School, including eighty boys, attended the funeral. As a further mark of the respect with which he was held, seven years later a portrait of Aaron was unveiled at Hucknall Free Library by Mr F Wyatt JP.
Aaron’s estate was valued at £339. Pledwell Riley continued to live in Hucknall. In 1911, she was at 91 Derbyshire Lane. For many years until her retirement she was Head Teacher of Spring Street Infants School, Hucknall. She was reported to be a member of the Congregational Church and conducted a class in the Hucknall Congregational Sunday School. Pledwell died in 1934 and her ashes were buried with her husband. George Riley became a bookseller (evidently not of Russell’s writings as I fancifully hoped) and master stationer at Loughborough, Leicestershire. He predeceased Aaron, dying of diabetes and tuberculosis on 7 November 1893. Aaron’s youngest brother, Frederick, was also a school teacher, he also died young, aged fifty, at Loughborough on 2 March 1915. His religious persuasion is indicated as his estate of £263 was administered by a Baptist minister. Epilogue: As a young man Aaron adopted the teachings of Russell, the leader of a new religion, writing to him on nine known (and several unknown) occasions, receiving responses and meeting him. Despite disappointments and local indifference to his views, he had courageously soldiered on. Aaron was a husband, a father, a Hucknall Headmaster and a religious pioneer – ‘a voice in the wilderness’. Postscript The reference to a portrait of Aaron triggered a quest to find a photograph/portrait of APR. I wrote a flurry of emails to three schools, Hucknall Library, Notts Archives and the local newspaper (providing a contact ‘phone number). After a fortnight there had been no response. Then, one lunch time I answered a ‘phone call. A slow, quavering voice asked if I was still interested in Mr Riley’s photo as her sister’s father was at Butlers School from 1874 and had a class photo which included APR. Sure enough, a letter arrived with the photo – a classic case of the potential rewards of ‘casting one’s bread on the waters.....’. Sources: England censuses, 1851 – 1911; Nottingham Guardian and Evening Post; Sheffield Daily Telegraph; Rushcliffe Advertiser; ZWT 1879 -1895; Butlers Hill School Logbook 1896; GRO death certificates. See also: http://truthhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/updates-to-this-chapter.html Acknowledgements: I am grateful for the help and additional material supplied by Mark Stevenson, Mark Davies and Maureen Newton (Hucknall Torkard historian and editor of the Hucknall Torkard Times).
Letters from A P Riley as published in Zion's Watch Tower
Spelling and punctuation as in the original, although Zion's Watch Tower appears to have turned British spelling into American spelling. The paragraphing has occasionally been adjusted. The dates at the end of each letter refer to the issue of Zion’s Watch Tower in which it was printed. [Note: Although not identified as being from Riley, I suggest that the first reference may be his initial letter to CTR in view of its content, its source (ie Nottingham) and what we may deduce about when and how Riley became interested in CTR’s writings. In a letter dated 1885, he wrote, ‘Since I last wrote to you....’ – so, Riley had written to Russell earlier. The other letters are clearly from Riley - being either bearing his name or being sent from the village of Hucknell.]
There are other letters in ZWT from Nottingham writers around this time but most are from clergymen. These are therefore patently not from APR. One, which refers to the writer’s brother who was a Methodist Doctor of Divinity, was evidently sourced from London and so this could not have been a reference to Riley’s brother.] Nottingham, ENGLAND ZION'S W.T. TRACT SOC'Y--Brethren: -- I have read with much pleasure the little book, "Food for Thinking Christians." I am indeed grateful to you for the manner in which you have explained several of the most difficult points in theology. God in His infinite goodness must have opened your eyes to see these wonders of His divine plan, and I am thankful that I have lived to see this day. I may say that I fully endorse a great deal of the new teaching, and shall adopt it for the future. I pray God to abundantly bless you for your great philanthropic resolve to bless the world by giving away these pamphlets. I always reverenced the Bible as the Word of God—but since I have read your publications. I look upon it as my most PRECIOUS POSSESSION. Yours Most_____ March 1882 Hucknall Torkard. England. MY DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL:- I forward another small sum towards whatever fund most needs help. I have great reason to be thankful for the glorious light which shines upon the Word of God, but I am distressed at my small amount of service. I long to be able to preach the glad tidings but it seems sometimes as though I had to keep all the good things to myself. I don't know what member I am, but I'm thankful God gives me some little to do. A word here, a line there; a copy of "Food" loaned here with a request to have the reader's opinion after going through it: a copy of WATCH TOWER there, and a conversation wherever I feel it will be for the edifying of saints or the pulling down of the strongholds of Satan. These I feel assured are not fruitless ways of proclaiming the gospel of peace. Since I last wrote to you, my brother who was in the Methodist ministry, has "come out of her”- not being able to hold the traditions and dogmas of the deceived elders. He will not accept all my views, but is very much more in favor of ZION'S WATCH I TOWER, "Food" and "Tabernacle" teachings than he was some time ago. My position is a most peculiar one. I have had my name taken off the books and refuse to subscribe towards the connectional funds, but the people with whom I have labored so long are not willing that I should leave them. They know my views, in some measure at any rate and are willing for me to teach them, saying we are Christians, brethren in Christ and on that ground we claim your fellowship: we don't care what you believe: we know you are a Christian and that is enough for us. It is the fellowship we desire not the name. They are a most loving little band of people and you may rest assured that the grains of truth let fall and those scattered, are not lost. If I am doing wrongly, I only want the Lord of the vineyard to show me and give me something to do somewhere else. I cannot live without working for the Master, but it seems very slow work. I have to preach for these people next Wednesday and intend taking "The Lord's Coming" (discourse) from the TOWER with additions. May the Lord of the harvest separate the wheat. I have had some severe conversations with one of the ministers here which only confirms my faith in God's word and the WATCH TOWER'S interpretation: it is by such things we are made strong. I do long for the manifestation of the Son of God, though I am by no means certain of being amongst specially favored ones. I was only a very nominal Christian until after 1881. I am totally unworthy and unlit for such a glorious high calling, but I know my joy will he full if I'm only a meek inheritor of the earth. It is a great trial for the members to be separate. I don't know how others feel, but I do long for the fellowship, face to face with another who holds ZION'S WATCH TOWER’S teachings as fully as myself: but organizations are not to be desired, therefore, we must wait patiently and if the Lord will, I'll praise him in company with the other brethren in his kingdom. I would not part with my TOWERS for their weight in gold. I am reading all carefully through again and making notes. May the Lord bless you ever more and more abundantly. Will try to send again in a short time. With heartiest Christian brotherly love, I am dear brother, very faithfully yours. September 1885 Torkard, ENGLAND. MY DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL: — The Lord has graciously provided me with a "companion." It happened in this wise. I was staying for a week at a "convalescent home." There were sixty inmates: but my way was not opened to do work until the day before I came away I put a copy of "Food" into an old gentleman's hand, asking him to read it and if he liked it to send to me his opinion upon it. A week or two after, I was made aware that the seed had been dropped in splendid ground. The old gentleman cannot tell his thanks; says it is what he has been looking for, for many years. He has seen much of the 'Behind the Scenes" life of the churches—Methodist, especially; he was sick at heart and almost an infidel. The only hope he could hold out to himself was that there must be a God: but he couldn't see that God was a loving Father. Now if you could see the joy and gratitude that lights up his countenance you would he repaid for all the labor you have been privileged to perform, and yet I doubt not he is one of a goodly number. His life he says is lit up with a new light. He can feel the Rock underneath his feet at last—he has been trying to find this for many years. Now he is fully satisfied that the Lord is good that "God is love." He sorely wants to get hold of Young's Concordance and so do I. Can't you send them over'? If they cost one dollar postage it will be much cheaper than we can get them here. If you can, please do so. Enclosed you will find P.O. If they cannot be sent you must put the money to anything you think well. Only please send word what can be done, if you possibly can. Now we want very badly to know what "plan" you have in hand for those who have time on their hands. Brother_____has all his and wants very much to get to some definite work although he has not by any means been idle since reading "Food" and 'Tabernacle." I have loaned him my papers for back years. He will write to you himself directly when we hear from you. I am so thankful for a companion to correspond on points dealt with in TOWER. &c. It is a grand means of establishing one, almost all has had to be done by letter so far, but D.V. we hope to have a week together soon. I bless God and pray for you and the brethren daily. Also for the dear ones who are still in Babylon for there seem to me many whom the Lord loves and favors, still in sectarian bonds. I am thankful to say I've not had it all smooth since resigning all membership and office in the old church, but I trust the Lord will keep me humble. My faith in God's present power to heal has been greatly enlightened and strengthened by reading the articles in last TOWER. Cures are being wrought in England. I am fully convinced that we are in the "day of the Lord." Oh! May he keep us and may we having put on the whole armor of God be able to use it and having done all to stand. The Lord bless you and use you ever more and more for his glory. With heartiest love, I am dear Brother, yours affectionately in Christ. December 1885 England. August 9, 1886. MY DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL: It is with unspeakable satisfaction I find the long-looked for "Millennial Dawn" announced in the TOWER for July which has just reached me. I hasten to ask you to forward as many copies as you can for the enclosed amount. I am sorry I cannot report any marked improvement in the work here, but every number of the TOWER encourages us to go on quietly doing what we can, leaving results, though we are thankful for some evidences of good being done. If men will not come right out, they confess we are right. Yes, the truth will sink into honest hearts, and we need not fear that all who have ears will hear. Your article this month (July) is especially opportune. You may be more advanced in America, but exactly the same is rapidly increasing here. If the Lord wills, may it please Him to use us to speak a word in season to those who are giving up truth along with error. I must not trouble you with a long letter, as I know your time is well occupied. Your faith encourages us here. Bro. W____ and myself and wife pray that the Master may continue to bless your labors. We know and realize fully that none but the Master could give the light we get upon his word through the TOWER. We send loving greeting to yourself, Sister Russell, and all whom, though having not seen, we love for the Master's sake. Affectionately yours in Christ, A.P. R September 1886 Nottingham. England. DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL.: Accept my tribute of thanks for the Dawn. I concur most emphatically in all Brother Adamson has said respecting it. Notwithstanding some of the chapters are old friends, they add to the book's value. I esteem its price, next to the grand textbook of our faith, above rubies. I have read the book through and some chapters several times, and I am amazed at the light it sheds upon God's word. Truly the Lord is with you and your dear wife. May he grant you all needful grace to sustain you. You are willing to be accounted "fools" for Christ's sake now and seek only for "glory, honor and immortality hereafter." You will be glad to know that I received my copies safely and have six of them loaned out at work. I cannot tell you yet what effect they are having on the readers, but will report in my next. I want seven more copies to send to friends in different parts of the country. I feel that this is just a sort of work I can do. Praying that the blessing of the Master of the harvest may continually abide upon you. I remain in loving fellowship and service, yours affectionately. A.P.R. February 1887 England. MY VERY DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL: - I have started several times to write to you since your ever-to-be- remembered visit, but have always been put off. Your visit here was a veritable, divine appointment. Its influence on others has been great for good. I doubt not, but to me especially. I cannot tell you all I have felt since Sept 13th: words fail me utterly. The humiliation, the self-abasement, the light, the love that have succeeded each other, no tongue can tell, but you can understand it, because you have known yourself. The Scriptures have seemed to open out of themselves, and never before have I had such freedom in giving meat to the household of faith. You suggested to me the Colporteur work. This I felt I could not undertake without further consideration. I should have been so glad to say ‘Yes’ but something held me back. I could not feel I was fitted for such work. This conviction has grown upon me; but with it I have also realised that for the present I must labor where I am. And I am confirmed in the belief that this is the Lord’s ordering by the blessing granted on the work I am doing. I think I told you or Sister Russell that I had a class of twenty to thirty men every Sunday morning for a Bible lesson. Somehow some portion of the spirit of Elijah fell upon us at those memorable London meetings and the men have realised that their teacher has received a blessing and must bless others if he is to keep it. A fortnight ago the kindly and helpful testimony given as to the way these lessons are appreciated was most encouraging. To the Master be all the praise. Three of the men were specially anxious to testify of the good they had received and these were men cradled and reared in Methodism. Two of them said the Bible was a new book to them and that they had learned more of the word, plans and purposes of God during the last few weeks than in all their former life put together. I felt deeply humiliated and could only ask for grace to help in this time of need. Knowledge puffeth up, but I am deeply conscious that I am nothing and fearful that men will look too much at the instrument. Since then there are two others who, having heard of the light God is giving, have come to see for themselves. One of them is a local preacher. He has been impressed with the beauty of God’s plan and says he will not miss being present whenever he can get here. I have sold all the DAWNS I had and am glad to hear that now we can be supplied from London. I hope to be able to arrange for public meetings occasionally this winter but hold myself if open to anything and everything that the Master of the Harvest gives me to do. And it is astonishing how many ways he opens up. Your first discourse in London, ‘To get out of her, my people’ has been a source of encouragement to me. I am always on the lookout for the sheep and lambs. Oh! I thank God that not one of his shall he lost, also for the great privilege of seeking them. Three weeks ago we had a very dear friend staying with us who is a Minister in the Primitive Methodist Church and with whom we had often exchanged views by letter. He and his wife left us, deeply impressed by 'our manner of life.' They are both sincere Christians and have very much of the love and likeness of the Master about them. The Master himself ordered all our conversation. We invariably entered into sweet fellowship and yet the doctrines of the trinity, immortality, future punishment, the destiny of mankind and the greatest doctrine of all, the Atonement through Christ our Ransomer, all were entered into as they were suggested to us: and this profitably to both sides. Since they left us for home (London) we have received a good letter from them. They are fully consecrated to him whom we love. These means God has brought to me, and in so many ways -- by letter, by speaking and by teaching -- have I been shown God's graciousness, so that I feel sure that for the present, at least, my influence is greatest and best exerted where I am. I am able to sell DAWNS and get others to do so, too, but if the Lord wills that I go out, I pray he may show me and give grace in needful supply. There are many things one would like to talk about. Oh! The time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord at and ever since your visit! But I cannot write more now, only to say that our (wife and self) hearts are overflowing with gratitude to the Master for his goodness in sending you to England. Sister Horne wrote me a characteristic letter yesterday. She tells me she has heard from you. There are none on earth that occupy such a place in our hearts as your dear selves. My heart is full and I am overjoyed at having received such blessing. Give our loving greeting to all the Brethren and Sisters, and may your hands be strengthened and your hearts cheered in the great work, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate fellow-servants, AARON and PC RILEY 15 March 1892 DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL:--The package arrived safely a fortnight ago. I have been waiting to write a letter, but find I cannot work it in just now, so please accept this as acknowledgment of my great indebtedness and gratitude. It is very good of you to so abundantly supply us and we hope to remit for same shortly. Do not deduct from previous amount sent. The Lord has blessed me very especially and I shall be well able to cover extra cost in a month or so. I have sent a goodly number of DAWNS and Tracts by a brother going to Australia, who will distribute half of them on board of ship and the rest on landing. I will write you when he has settled down. Our little band is making its influence felt though we have never been heard in the streets and squares, but a steady and quiet manner coupled with a consistent life -- being led of the holy Spirit - is mighty in reproving the worldliness and political spirit of our time. The churches are now mostly shows, and political agencies. Things are rapidly shaping themselves for the battle of the great day. Thank God, he has enabled us to see it. Accept our united love and a hearty greeting to all our dear brethren and sisters, especially Sister Russell. Yours, ever affectionately in Christ. A. P. RILEY. 1 October 1892 England. DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL:--I take the first opportunity of fulfilling my promise, and herewith enclose Money Order for Young's Concordance and the surplus for anything you please. Our little band will all send together in a month or so subscriptions to TOWER and Tract Fund. You will he pleased to learn of our spiritual welfare. Brother W has just returned home after a week's stay with us. We have the meetings in our home, and he was much impressed by the quiet work which is being done. I feel assured that the Lord sent him and in so doing has blessed us all: and I trust he may be stimulated to further work in his neighborhood. He has thrown light upon the difference of colporteur work here and in the United States, having spent some years there himself. Colporteurs are looked upon with suspicion here either being connected with Evangelical Associations or hawkers of encyclopaedias and larger works. Whereas in America much of the book selling is done in this manner, in England all has to be done through booksellers. Still I think we might be doing more than we are, although much is being done in a quiet way. I was much blessed by the letter from the good "three score and ten" brother. Yes, I am sure there is no soul hungering and thirsting after the Kingdom of God that will not be tilled sooner or later. The TOWERS are very precious; but I think I must be selfish, for I often wish that, with the exception of the encouraging letters from brethren all discussion could be avoided. I know words of warning are necessary to the weak ones and children, but I feel sure that none of the Lord's little ones will be led astray by false teachers. And Oh! I do so love the spirit that has prevailed all along in the TOWER and I dread anything that does not extend the same charity to others that we ourselves so much need. I seem so to revel in the beautiful pastures that I can only pity those who prefer to feed on husks. Most loving greetings to yourself and Sister Russell from all here. A. P. RILEY. 1 December 1892 OUR DEAR BROTHER AND SISTER RUSSELL: - Subjoined you will find list of subscribers, so that we may have the remainder of the sheet for personal chat. First allow us to send our most affectionate greeting and to wish you all the joy of the season. But this, as you well know, is backed by our earnest prayers on your behalf that you may not only be preserved from all evil but led into all truth. Truly, we need to bear each other up before the throne of grace in prayer for the powers of evil are even now most malignant and manifest: and well need we take warning and comfort from our Father's message--"if possible they shall deceive the very elect." Ah! Thank him we know that it is impossible: for he will never leave, never forsake: and "no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." We are finding it a very trying time. The wheat is being sifted, and so instead of increasing, our numbers are getting rather less: but this brings out a point that it is more and more needful we should keep to the front and that is real conversion and consecration, not to a particular work, but to Christ. This is forced upon us when we see some very eager for the "truth” and who seem most promising for a time: but the novelty wears off, the trials come and they stumble because they have not realized their greatest need: i.e. that they are only sinners at best, until they are wholly given up to and begotten again of Christ. Then, too, Spiritism is spreading so rapidly as to be almost a fashion, and the church nominal is most rapidly rushing to destruction. Here we thank God and you for the help received from TOWER both on "Higher Criticism" and Parliament of Religions. But let us always be kept humble by remembering that we are acceptable only in Christ our Lord. I feel there is much danger of thinking that we are acceptable for our works' sake: and oh! I do pray my dear Brother and Sister that you, who have such a mighty responsibility upon you may he kept from all evil. Brother Rogers will possibly tell you of my visit to and meeting him and the dear ones in London during my Christmas holiday. But I cannot help feeling uncomfortable and somewhat grieved that the meetings in London are likely to be more disputatious than is compatible with loving and gentle helpfulness. There are some such loving and dear souls amongst them; but some seem to manifest more of the contentious than the Christ-like Spirit. Perhaps it is that they are "freshmen." But we must pray the Lord to touch them, to search their hearts before them, to teach them and to keep them from divisions. The dear ones here send most loving greeting and pray the Lord to keep your steps and to bless you ever more and more abundantly. Ever yours in the Beloved A.P. and P.C. Riley 15 February 1894 Dear BROTHER RUSSELL: - I had hoped to get a letter of respectable proportions to you a month ago, but good intentions do not always come with fitting opportunities. And now we must be content simple to forward subscriptions and to tell you that we have abundantly proved that our God is faithful and keepeth his own. We are sometimes tempted to mourn over the small outward fruitage of our work, but as we have the better fruitage of the Lord’s work within us, which gives us peace and joy in spite of surrounding and ever-closing in trouble – a meek and quiet spirit of trustfulness that he will enable us to endure. We see that the nominal church (the Christian world) is more and more forsaking Christ in spite of so much religiousness and zeal in really good work (temperance, purity guilds, Christian Endeavor Societies etc.): they will not hear the voice of the Shepherd. Verily, 9although they think they are doing God’s service, they are working only their own wills. We have been greatly helped and blessed of late by realizing that God’s thoughts are not man’s , and neither are man’s ways God’s; indeed, they cannot be. We are very prone to set ourselves some “good thing” to do and then to conclude that is what God would have us do; and although I do not quite unconditionally accept the preaching of one of the greatest preachers who says in effect that “a Christian is one who does what he does not like” or “he mostly finds God’s way the reverse of his own”, yet I do believe that if two courses are open to us, we shall often be safest to choose the most unpleasant. I have just been laid aside a little through sickness and it has prevented me from getting around or writing to librarians; so that the matter I spoke of, respecting supplying libraries with sets of DAWN is no nearer completion. But another thought has occurred to me. If you think the plan is worth anything, how would it be to insert a notice in TOWER setting forth the scheme and asking readers to see the librarians in their own districts, and so get the interest spread? I have just been refreshing my memory and strengthening my faith by reading history, and it has mightily confirmed me in the belief that Christians, and the saints specifically, have nothing to do with either the good or the bad methods of governments of this world; that we are not only to be quiet and submissive to good rulers, but to be in subjection to every ordinance of man: to suffer indignities, imposition, the spoiling of our goods and the taking away of name or life; for our God will not allow this unless it be for our good. I am amazed to find so few who are not swallowed up in politico-religious (!!) broils. The whole of nonconformist churches are given over to this delusion of bringing about Christ's Kingdom. The Lord’s people must leave themselves in his hand and he will deliver them from worse than Egyptian bondage but he will never submit to be helped by man. The image (earth's governments) is not only to be destroyed, but carried away so that no trace of it can be found. We must not be deceived into thinking that this or that or the other good cause is God’s way of improving matters. Christ's Kingdom will not grow out of the best of earth's governments: it is not of this age at all, and so nothing but utter destruction can clear the Way for it. We always remember you in our prayers. We very much appreciate the Nov. TOWER. Indeed, this year has given us some of the best. May the light increase more and more. With heartiest love from all here. A.P. RILEY 15 January 1895
11 December 1896
The article featuring Aaron Riley which was published in the Hucknall Torkard Times, March 2013
As this piece was intended to be read by folk who probably knew little about Watchtower History or Charles Taze Russell, its approach was intended to be accessible to the ordinary man or woman in the street.