Restoration or Defamation?
Frank W. Sandford and the Elijah Complex
Submitted by John C. Rankin, M.Div. 1984
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
November 25, 1983
A Term Paper for Dr. J. Christy Wilson's Class on
Modern Cults and Religions
Frank W. Sand ford (1862-1948) made the claim on his fortieth birthday in 1902 that he was
the "Elijah" of God, commissioned to "restore all things" in
preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Upon this assertion, Sandford measured all
truth, and so judged others as to their spiritual health.
He made the claim with such appeal to his own godliness, and with such disdain of those
outside his movement, that it is warranted to measure, to discern and judge, whether his
claim is true or faIse. If it is true, then the entirety of the Christian Church is
obligated to hear him. If it is faIse, then he must be declared a false prophet the
founder of a cult, and the members of that cult must be warned.
Whereas there are many issues raised by Sandford's claim and many incidents in the
colorful history of his movement known as "The Kingdom," the limits of this
paper necessitate a restriction of focus. This restriction will enable one concern to be
handled well, as opposed to many concerns handled poorly.
The focus chosen is to examine the personal dynamics of the man as revealed in his book,
Seven Years With God, and the book, The Restoration of All Things written by Victor P.
Abram. In Sandford's book, he recounts his own life as an apologetic designed to announce
himself as the "Elijah." Abram's book is a sequel, where Abram seeks to
vindicate Sandford's claim, and then to advance his own claim that he succeeded Sandford
as Elisha succeeded Elijah.
In his book, Sandford recounts how God led him to start a Bible School at Shiloh, Maine.
He maintains that the years of 1893 - 1900 were marked by God's supernatural guidance and
provision, and as such, testify to Sandford's character as the most "apostolic"
servant of God since the early church.
Three elements of Sandford's personality emerge. First is his ego, second is his
fascination for buildings and paying bills on time, and third is his legalism which breeds
the twin children of perfectionism and separationalism.
In speaking of his conversion on February 29, 1880 (which, being leap day, in his
estimation, was a sign of his special calling), Sandford says that his decision to raise
his hand at a public meeting and confess Christ "required more courage than
Wellington had at Waterloo." From the starting point, he had this inflated self-view.
Sandford continues to portray himself as highly successful in all his endeavors, from
baseball playing in college to a pastoral ministry from 1886-1893. He commends himself for
involvement with various Christian organizations, and his "intelligent"
understanding of the "religious situation of the globe.2
He interpreted sufferings and trials as his being a "pillar" for God, and the
foundation for a worldwide movement. He says: "At the commencement of the seven years
one man utterly alone, undertaking the world's evangelization.4 This "one man"
theme recurs often in his work, eventually being tied in with the prophet Elijah
(implicitly referring to Mt. Carmel and the showdown with the prophets of Baal). Though he
uses the third person often, the explicit reference is to himself.
Once when Sandford was caught in Boston by a snowstorm, seemingly unable to return to
Maine in time for a meeting, he says: "I have done staggered through the blinding
snowstorm to Shiloh, and the next morning astounded them by my presence. He never seemed
to tire in congratulating himself for his self-diagnosed feats of greatness and faith. He
used them for authenticating his integrity of calling. The rationale was that if he so
consistently endured and overcame various obstacles, he must be "in partnership with
As the book works towards conclusion, this seIf-exaltation culminates in his claim of
"apostolic" standing, and his claim to be one of the two olive trees of
Zechariah 4:3 , as one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-4. He makes the case that
Martin Luther and John Wesley each restored some portion of God's truth as members of a
lesser order of apostles. But now the world was ready for a "complete
apostleship" like that of Peter and Paul, and that such was found in Sandford's
"movement minutely scriptural and embracing all truth." He claims his
"seven years" demonstrates the qualifications for apostleship as found in
Throughout the book, Sandford would cast himself, obliquely, as a Messiah figure. This
trend begins when he heeded the command of God to "Go" in "absolute
abandonment to His will, His
Word and His providences . . . the Son of God . . . was preparing me personally to
represent Himself among men.7 Whereas this statement can be seen also in his view that he
was "The Elijah," further statements close in on a Messiah-identity. When
recounting some trials, he says: "From first to last throughout the year, four
different persons have broken their solemn promises, representing from fifteen to eighteen
thousand dollars, and though they have thereby crucified me, causing anguish of spirit as
real as though spikes had been driven through my hands, God gave me, December 23 the
glorious word, 'Victor,' and made me know that I myself had stood true on the
Sandford, at the conclusion of the book tells of a key moment in his "seven
years" "If ever a human being stood stripped and bare, hated by the world, a
spectacle unto angels and men, and the laughing stock of hell, it seemed to me that the
writer, on that foreign shore, did at that time. No one can describe the billows of
anguish that swept over my spirit, until finally it
seemed as if my own Father turned His face, and I cried with the Son of God, 'My God, my
God, why has Thou forsaken me (sic)?' "
Sandford had a fascination for buildings, particularly in regard to his Bible School.
Situated on a modest hill facing the White Mountains in Southeastern Maine, he described
the location as "the mountain of the height of Israel," where his building would
be a springboard for worldwide evangelization.9 The building process was a hand to mouth
process, but one which he described as "superhuman, divine."10 When a wing was
added, and completed in an arbitrary timetable of six weeks, he declared its completion as
like "signs and wonders again visiting the earth as in olden times."11 When this
wing was completed, Sandford declared, "I stood surrounded by this mighty structure,
and beheld on every hand the triumphs of omnipotence."l2
As Sandford viewed the completion of his buildings as the sign of God's approval, so did
he regard the paying of bills on time. He was slavish in this regard, insisting that all
bills be paid at the end of the work week, not a minute late, even if the workers or
suppliers had not yet requested payment. He often did not have the money at hand the day
certain bills were due, but believed it would be supplied, When one time the money did not
arrive exactly on schedule, he found cause to blame someone else for being disobedient to
God for not sending that money on time.
The third aspect of Sandford's personality revealed in his book was his legalism. This has
been seen in his bill paying practices. Another place was in his rejection of
denominations. When he "understood" the religious situation of the globe and his
"call" to evangelize, he declared he was unfit "for the narrow work on
denominational lines."l3 He saw this separation as a holy departure from Babylon, the
beginning of his journey back to apostolic power. But perhaps this was only a
manifestation of his idea of perfectionism. In telling of his conversion experience,
Sandford said, "Oh, how I praise Him, for I believe had I failed then my Christian
life would forever have been maimed," 14 In other words, Sandford believed that if he
had not been converted at that exact moment, but delayed for a time, he would have had
only the possibility of a crippled spiritual life. In his claim of true apostleship, he
stated that the Christian Church was dependent upon such apostles for their perfection, a
perfection which he claimed for himself. Sandford also believed that his perfection and
the perfection of those in his movement in some fashion paid God back for ft. He relates a
"vision" he saw when in a time of corporate worship where the Father and the Son
were sitting next to each other, leaning over watching. "As the Son looked at the
Father and the Father at His Son, it seemed as though they were saying, 'THIS TRULY REPAYS
US FOR ALL THE SUFFERING IT HAS COST US TO MAKE THEM PERFECT IN EVERY GOOD WORK. ' "
Since Sandford completed his book prior to his public claim as Elijah, he did not
explicitly set it forth then though his whole book was aiming at it. But in 1901 he
relates that God told him, "Elijah is here. Testify." 17 He firmed up this claim
on October 2, 1902, when he claimed to have received a prophecy from God saying,
"Remove the covering cast over the face of all the earth. Oversee it,"18 He
understood this to mean that he was to restore the Kingdom of God on earth. Accordingly he
was the forerunner of Christ's Second Coming, with God's authority to remove the spiritual
darkness over the earth.
Immediately did his claims to authority increase. At a baptism service at Shiloh in
December 1901, Sandford said: "Every person now who is baptized by the forerunner
(himself) of the Son of God can actually have the same privileges that the Son of God had.
I care not if you have been baptized twenty times. You have never been baptized by the man
whom God has sent to herald His coming, and you never can be prepared to enter the
presence of God unless you have that baptism (the Lord) will disfellowship every Methodist
and every Baptist and every Presbyterian and every denominationalist on the face of God's
earth and every person that does not hear my call which I have given in the name of the
apostle of God,"
Sandford published in 1984 "What it is now essential to believe in order to be loyal
to the Kingdom." After listing some orthodox items the "essentials" of
belief state: "I believe that F. W. Sandford of Shiloh, Me., U.S.A. tells the truth
when he makes the proclamation that God said to him, "Elijah is here, Testify,"
and again "I have found David" words spoken as applying to himself personally. I
believe in and accept him as such" The statement of faith continues to call for
belief in Sandford, and a friend, C. E. HoIland, as the two witnesses of Revelation 1:3-4,
as well as by other biblical titles. It concludes with assent to "the Kingdom"
being "renewed" on October 2, 1902 by God's authority.
In the same publication, Sandford calls upon every faithful believer, "every follower
of Christ and His forerunner" to a "monster mass meeting" at Shiloh from
August 1-21, 1904. He implies that failure to do so equals disbelief or disobedience to
Sandford died in 1948, having been in a sort of self-imposed exile for 28 years. In the
meantime he engaged in a worldwide sailing voyage where he planned to evangelize the
world. He soon discovered that it could not be done, so he claimed that God told him to do
it by prayer. So they prayed for every country they sailed to or passed. He claimed that
this sailing trip "removed the covering cast over the face of the entire earth as it
sailed." His assessment of the trip's impact continues: "Evangelization
henceforth; worldwide evangelization, all conquering evangelization; nations born in a
day; continents restored by a word; oceans and seas and rivers transformed by divine
authority; great, mighty, majestic steppings of a God on every hand as He rises up to
answer the prayers which for twelve years, without cessation, night and day, summer and
winter, have poured forth from these turrets in behalf of others . . . This is what the
voyage of the Coronet around the globe has meant -- a preparing of the way for the mighty
outpouring, the stupendous
manifestations of divine love to every creature . . . "22
Towards the end of his voyaging, however, there was tragedy where some men lost their
lives. Sandford, on his return to the States, was convicted of manslaughter, and served
nearly seven years in jail, after which 'he imposed upon himself a withdrawal from the
public until his death.
Victor P. Abram recounts in his book much of what we have already learned of Sandford, but
adding to his claims, and excusing any problems. Abram originally published the material
of his book in the Kingdom's publication, The Standard, in 1951 and 1952, several years
after Sandford's death. He began his treatise by saying that Sandford's death did not
invalidate his claim (though Sandford did claim "that if he did not die in
Jerusalem" being one of the two witnesses of Revelation 1:3-4, then people
"could put him down as a false prophet." Rather, it meant that the work of
Restoration was still going on. Abram reviews Sandford's claim to be the Elijah,
amplifying arguments used by Sandford himself, and comparing him with the apostles. He
straight forwardly says that to believe in God, one must be a believer in his Elijah, F.
Abram then discloses that he himself was personally trained by Sandford as Elijah trained
Elisha to succeed him.25 As Sandford's book was purposed to present himself as the Elijah,
Abram's book fits the same mold of being an apologetic to advance his claim to be an
Elisha, He also makes identification with British-Israelism as a means to secure the claim
that Sandford's movement is truly the "Kingdom" restored, and also advances a
type of Saturday Sabbath for rest. He concludes his book, "If you would be ready for
the King, identify yourself ahead of time with the King's forerunner."26 And since
Sandford was dead, Abram now became the one with whom true believers must identify.
But since Abram died in 1977, the "Kingdom" has readjusted itself, downplaying
Sandford's claim as the Elijah. This has evolved because of those in the
"Kingdom" who have questioned the truth of Sandford's claims, and with Abram
dead, there remains no biblical motif in the Elijah-Elisha scheme. Mr. Joseph Wakeman has
become the corporation president, but he clearly rejects a role similar to that of
Sandford and Abram for himself. In a paper where Wakeman defines the present status of the
"Kingdom,"27 he puts distance between himself, the movement, and yet he still
states that Sandford's role "was authentic."
He says it is presumptuous to criticize things in the movement's history that "we
don't understand," that one can be a member of the "Kingdom" without
passing judgment on Mr. Sandford's role, but concludes in saying, "The special
authority of the prophet is not in evidence in the same way as formerly but the call to
work with God as His servant is as valid as ever"
But the question must be asked whether this is a valid position. Destiny cannot be
divorced from origin. If Sandford was true, then the fruits should be evident. If not,
then he must be called to account for his falsehood.
First, Sandford was in error in claiming that an "Elijah" would precede the
Second Coming of Christ. The testimony of biblical exegesis and theology is that John the
Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4:5. Secondly, if he was one of the two
witnesses of Revelation 11:3-4, he has testified against himself by not dying in Jerusalem
and rising from the dead. Third, it is clear that Sandford had an enormous ego which
allowed him to make such claims for himself. In documenting these claims I have done so
dispassionately in the spirit of objective research. But now it must be asked: what sort
of man can believe that worldwide evangelization is his sole responsibility? Who sees his
conversion as being more courageous than Wellington at Waterloo (that does not reflect
repentance and humility, but works righteousness)? Who Lifts himself above Luther and
Wesley while cutting off the rest of Christianity as apostate? Who places himself side by
side with the crucified Christ in terms of what he suffered? Who regarded wooden
structures as signs and wonders comparable with what happened in the early church? Who saw
himself in a state of perfection? Who believed he could repay God for the cross? Who dared
to say that salvation had to involve accepting himself as Christ' s forerunner? Who saw
his prophecies fail and land in all because of a blind zeal that caused the death of
others? Who thought that a sailing trip restored continents by a word? The answer is that
Sandford was deceived in his self-estimation. He made claims that bordered the blasphemous
and was so ignorant in biblical theology that he put himself forward as an Elijah figure.
This Elijah-complex, not unique in church history, is that of a person who allowed Satan
to put thoughts into his head. A person who became a deceiver himself. A person who stands
before the judgment seat of Christ guilty of the active propagation of falsehood, of
exalting himself to the very level of the Savior.
One final question must be posed. How does the present church that came out of his
movement, and still carrying his name of the "Kingdom;" how do they stand as
regards to being truly Christian? Their doctrines are biblical apart from the person of
Sandford. And they are putting some distance from him. But to insure spiritual health,
they must recognize that by the grace of God they are saved, and therefore must judge
Sandford for what he was -- an egotistical zealot and teacher of falsehood . As a
blasphemer. As one who brought not restoration of the Gospel but a defamation.