In The Kingdom of Matthias, Paul E. Johnson retells the tale of a religious cult that was founded in the 1820s-1830s. Robert Matthews, an emigrant who grew up in Cambridge, New York, was a member of the orthodox Scots Presbyterian Church, which at the time was an incredibly strict religion that basically taught and believed that people naturally do wrong and commit sinful acts. Elijah Pierson, who later came to be called Elijah the Tishbite was a descendant of Puritans, was raised in a liberal Presbyterian church. The two self-proclaimed prophets created the bizarre religious cult known as the Kingdom of God, which attracted mostly poor men.
Robert Matthews lived in New York, and for a while led a normal life with a family and a business. This didn’t last long, because he began to search for religious enlightenment. He had trouble fitting into any church group usually due to him being known as a violent person and being considered “unholy” after he was arrested for being disruptive during a church service. After his arrest, he moved to Manhattan by himself. His inability to fit in prompted him to begin to invent a religion of his own. By the 1830’s, Matthews had met Elijah Pierson, who had left the Baptist church and formed his own independent church. He now became Matthias’s “John the Baptist” and let Robert Matthews preach to their followers. It’s important to understand the history of the time in order to clearly define what exactly were the motives and driving forces behind the religious cult formation brought about by these two men. The nineteenth century was rapidly evolving religiously and economically. During this time, the Second Great Awakening occurred. This was a Christian revival that led to the formation of many denominations and reform movements that were meant to “purify” society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. At this time, many religious congregations were forming to serve the lower class specifically.