The Niagara Bible Conference

In 1883 Bible believers met for the first time at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a charming spot some fourteen miles below Niagara Falls. It was here that the Niagara Bible Conference gathered every year from 1883 through 1897 (with the exception of 1884). It met at the Queen's Royal Hotel and its pavilion. Brooks, in his Truth magazine describes the meeting of 1892 as one "more largely attended than ever before. Often every seat in the pavilion was occupied, and the porches were filled with eager hearers of the Word. The place too becomes more beautiful as the years go by, and it would be difficult to find a spot better suited to the quiet and prayerful study of the Sacred Scriptures. The building in which the Conference meets, overlooking lake Ontario and the river Niagara, and surrounded by green trees, is secluded from the noise of the world; and so excellent were the arrangements for the accommodation of the guests, both in Queen's Royal Hotel and in the boarding houses of the village, that not a word of complaint was heard from any one."

The names of Fundamentalism's founding fathers who graced Niagara's platform during those years should once again become familiar to Fundamentalists. Some of these were W.E.Blackstone, Charles Erdman, James Brookes, William Moorehead, A.J.Gordon, A.C.Dixon, C.I.Scofield, and J. Hudson Taylor (who founded the China Inland Mission).

The messages generally centered on the doctrines of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, missions and prophecy. Premillennialism was defended and taught. Article XIV of the 1878 Niagara Bible Conference Creed states, "We believe that the world will not be converted during the present dispensation, but is fast ripening for judgment, while there will be a fearful apostasy in the professing Christian body; and hence that the Lord Jesus will come in person to introduce the millennial age, when Israel shall be restored to their own land, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; and that this personal and premillennial advent is the blessed hope set before us in the Gospel for which we should be constantly looking."

Mryon Houghton makes the following observations: Note the major ideas in this article: (1) an anti-postmillennialism: ["...the world will not be converted during the present dispensation, but is fast ripening for judgment..."]; (2) exposure of Christendom's apostasy ["...there will be a fearful apostasy in the professing Christian body;"] (3) a future millennium in which Israel will be a nation in its own land ["...the millennial age, when Israel shall be restored to their own land..."] (Remember, this was written in 1878. Israel did not become a nation in the Middle East until May 14, 1948!) And (4) a personal, premillennial return of Christ which is imminent ["...this personal and premillennial advent is the blessed hope...for which we should be constantly looking"].

One old timer described the Niagara Conferences as follows: "Those were the days of Brookes and West and Parsons and Erdman and Moorehead and Nicholson and Needham and Gordon. Oh, what discussions were held in those days! How the Lord Jesus Christ was exalted, how the Holy Spirit was honored, and how the Bible was expounded! The bread of life broken and distributed at the Niagara Bible Conference is feeding the children of God in this land to this day . . . .There have been Bible conferences since, all stimulated by this one, . . . but they have been like so many steepings of the same tea."

Some of the contributions of the Niagara Conference: 1) the conference spawned new missionary activity and evangelism; 2) the conference contributed to the rise and spread of a large Bible conference movement (such as the Northfield conferences); 3) the conference had a significant impact on the rise of the Bible institute and Bible college movement; 4) the conference gave early expression to Fundamentalism's emphasis on concentrated Bible study; 5) the conference precipitated a vast amount of Fundamentalist literature, especially on the subjects of prophecy, the Person and work of Christ, the Holy Spirit and missions.

—Adapted from In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850,
by David O. Beale

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