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Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times

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The Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times was founded in England in 1878 by Joseph Spurgeon, cousin of the popular British preacher Charles Spurgeon, and Michael Baxter, Anglican minister and evangelist. Since its founding the Herald coupled apocalyptic fervor with an emphasis on social reform. It placed an emphasis on the imminent return of Jesus Christ and in the preface of its first U.S. edition, it boldly declared as its single aim, “To keep alive the expectation of his personal return to the earth.” There were many articles related to the Second Coming of Christ and to the topic of prophecy. W.E. Blackstone, an American evangelist and Christian Zionist, and George Muller, an English evangelist who cared for more than 10,000 orphans during his life, were among the magazine’s prominent contributors who focused on end-times prophecy. Apart from its apocalypticism, the Herald was instrumental in the Social Gospel Movement.

Early in 1879, coincidentally the same year the Mission was founded, the Herald gave its support to a collective of New York clergy who committed to preach sermons indicting the horrific conditions of tenement houses in the Lower East Side, raising awareness from their pulpits the plight of the poor and dispossessed. Rev. Talmage had previously preached a series of sermons that deplored the actions of landlords and expressed generous empathy and solidarity with the poor. Many relief agencies and rescue missions joined the protest. Jeremiah McAuley, who had recently left the squalor and crime of the Lower East Side to be an evangelist, took legal action in an effort to shut down the filthy housing where the poor were exploited. Clergy publicized and protested these conditions while rescue workers directly addressed the slum dweller’s plight. The workers cleaned squalid rooms, provided fuel and food, and located housing for evicted or particularly ill-housed families. This was only the first of many movements with which editors of the Herald would align the magazine.

The Herald was initially based in the United Kingdom where it had a large circulation, and a U.S. edition was published in New York. At that time there was a circulation of 30,000 in the United States, which was quite good for a religious magazine. On a trip to England in 1889, Klopsch met Michael Baxter, owner of the Herald. After some negotiations, Klopsch took over editorial reigns of the U.S. edition, and subsequently purchased the magazine. Under Klopsch’s direction, the Herald’s circulation increased to 250,000 making it the most widely read and influential religious magazine in the world. Klopsch was destined to be a reformer, and his faith and vocation were the means by which he lived into his calling.

Louis Klopsch was born in 1852 near Berlin, Germany. One year after his birth his mother died of a pulmonary infection. The next year his father, Osmar Klopsch, a poor physician, arrived in the United States with his toddler son to avoid imprisonment by the German government related to his activities in the revolutions that spread across Europe in 1848. Louis was just two years old when he arrived in the United States and he spent the remainder of his life as a New Yorker. At the age of 34, he married Mary Merritt. Together, they had four children. As a young man, Klopsch studied journalism at Columbia University and after graduation, honed his publishing and business chops through a variety of ventures. He founded a devotional journal called Good Morning, followed by the trade magazine Daily Hotel Reporter. He also owned and operated the Pictorial Associated Press, pioneering newspapers to use photographs. Through the Press, he syndicated the sermons of his close friend and pastor, Rev. Talmage. Upon Klopsch’s acquisition of the Herald, Talmage, who had already been a contributor, became co-editor of the magazine. Klopsch first heard Talmage preach as a teenager. Talmage served as mentor and confidante to Klopsch throughout his life. The two men, often accompanied by their wives, traveled the world. The magazine continued to increase in circulation due to its photojournalism and articles by popular preachers such as Talmage and Spurgeon. Spurgeon, although revered today by Christian conservatives and fundamentalists, was well known in his day as a political progressive and many of sermons and articles in the Herald espouse his radical opposition to war and anti-imperialist position. Theologically conservative and socially progressive, Spurgeon struck a nerve with Christians on both sides of the Atlantic. Southern Baptists either strongly edited his sermons or outright refused to print and distribute them because he was a staunch abolitionist.

Talmage, who had contributed to the Herald since its founding, was instrumental in the publication’s success. At the time, Talmage was one of the most influential preachers in the United States and pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, which met at Brooklyn Academy of Music. He had a keen interest in social reform, a deep sense of empathy for the poor and disenfranchised, and a desire to affect social change. By the 1890s, the U.S. was primed to receive the Herald, a magazine that married apocalypticism with evangelical fervor and a deep-seated desire for social reform. The decade gave rise to the Tenement Movement; Jane Addams and W.E.B. DuBois were surveying society; and a new social consciousness was emerging. Talmage’s editorship at the Herald positioned the magazine for increased success. He tapped into the nerve of the nation, particularly the church, which was wrestling with how to apply gospel teachings to social issues. He often wrote articles that dealt explicitly with social issues that affected the poor.

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