Frederick Wheeler Rides Into Town
Frederick Wheeler absently took in the white cupolas of the Washington town hall as he drove into town. It was his turn to preach at the little chapel in the picturesque town of Washington, New Hampshire. He had a lot on his mind. It was the spring of 1844 and he was a Millerite waiting for Jesus to return that very year. As his horse and wagon rumbled over the well-worn road his mind rifled through the events of the last two years, pausing to linger on the memory of his conversion. It had not been a conversion to mere theory. No. He had experienced the very power of God sending home the truth to his heart and filling his entire being with the presence of His Spirit. Yes, he thought fiercely Frederick Wheeler is a Millerite Adventist because the truth is a fire in his bones.
As the simple white clapboard exterior of the Washington Church came into view his mind snapped to his present duties. He was here to minister to the saints and to break bread with them before hurrying home to his family. He had recently sold everything he owned in anticipation of Christ’s second coming and moved in with his sister-in-law and her husband Washington Barnes. They weren’t the only Millerite Adventist family to pitch their tents in the Barnes household either. The multitude of families were all crowded together, their sleeping arrangements separated by bedsheets nailed to the rafters but they were all happy in their hope of Christ’s soon return. It wouldn’t be long before they exchanged their cramped quarters for something far more glorious.
Wheeler pulled up to the church and hitched his horse and wagon securely to one of the many hitching posts. He then made his way through the weathered double doors and into the sanctuary. He smiled and greeted the congregation as they began to make their way into the church shortly after. There was the formidable Farnsworth clan headed by Captain Farnsworth and his son William who had been instrumental in founding the Washington Church in 1842. Wheeler shook their hands and greeted them warmly before turning his attention to two women who were just making their way into the Sanctuary.
Who’s Afraid Of Rachel Oaks?
Rachel Oakes and her daughter Delight. Delight was the local school teacher and her mother Rachel had moved from Verona, New York to live with her a few months ago. Both Mrs Oakes and Delight were Seventh-Day Baptists but they were happy enough to visit the Washington church on a Sunday. Wheeler smiled and nodded at the ladies as they took their seats. He then moved to the little communion table that had been set up at the front of the church and began his sermon.
Frederick Wheeler delivered a passionate message about the need to follow Christ wholeheartedly and the mandate that rested on every Christian to obey God and keep His commandments. As he waxed eloquent on the topic he noticed Mrs Oakes restlessly shifting in her seat and once he even wondered distantly if she was about to stand up right then and there in the middle of his sermon. To his immense relief she didn’t but as Frederick Wheeler began to bring the communion service to a close he had a feeling that Rachel Oakes had something on her mind and that he was about to get a good piece of it in his ear soon.
“My brother” Rachel Oakes’ voice was firm and clear as she addressed Frederick Wheeler and she stared him straight in the eye. Wheeler gulped inwardly but managed to remain poised as she rushed on without waiting for him to respond “ You’d do better to set that communion table back against the wall and cover it with the white cloth until you’re willing to keep all the commandments of God yourself!” Wheeler did a double take. What on earth was she talking about? It turned out that she was talking about the fourth commandment which she felt extremely strongly about.
Rachel Oakes went on to tell Wheeler that Saturday was the Seventh-Day Sabbath and that he should follow the Bible himself before he asked others to do so. Wheeler stood there frozen in shock, her words cutting through him like a knife. The encounter led him straight to the Bible to study the matter out for himself and as history bears witness, he became the first Sabbath keeping Adventist minister in North America. Wheeler’s story provides a poignant example of humility and a teachable spirit. He was not above being willing to learn from a widowed single mother who happened to be one of his parishioners. He was not afraid to step out in faith and stand alone. May we be willing to follow his example.
Citations and Further Reading
- Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
- Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)