Proclaiming the Lord’s Return (1870-1914)
“The following history is given not merely because I have been urged to give a review of God’s leadings in the path of light, but specially because I believe it to be needful that the truth be modestly told, that misapprehensions and prejudicial misstatements may be disarmed, and that our readers may see how hitherto the Lord has helped and guided.”*
FOLLOWING those words Charles Taze Russell proceeded to outline the developments that led to his publishing Millennial Dawn (later called Studies in the Scriptures) and Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (now known as The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom). This history is of special interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? Because their present understanding of Bible truths and their activities can be traced back to the 1870’s and the work of C. T. Russell and his associates, and from there to the Bible and early Christianity.
Who was Charles Taze Russell? Does the history of his work give evidence of the Lord’s help and guidance?
A Search for Truth
C. T. Russell was born in the United States, in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, on February 16, 1852. He was the second son of Joseph L. and Ann Eliza (Birney) Russell, who were Presbyterians of Scottish-Irish descent. Charles’ mother died when he was only nine years old, but from an early age, Charles was influenced by both of his religiously-minded parents. As a later associate of C. T. Russell put it, “they trained the small twig; and it grew in the direction of the Lord.” Although brought up as a Presbyterian, Charles eventually joined the Congregational Church because he preferred its views.
Young Charles was evidently quite a businessman. At just 11 years of age, he became a partner with his father in a thriving men’s clothing store. Charles enlarged the business, eventually operating a number of different stores himself. Although things went well for him in business, spiritually he was very troubled. Why was this?
Charles’ parents sincerely believed the creeds of Christendom’s churches and brought him up to accept them too. Young Charles was thus taught that God is love, yet that he had created men inherently immortal and had provided a fiery place in which he would eternally torment all except those who had been predestined to be saved. Such an idea repulsed the honest heart of teenage Charles. He reasoned: “A God that would use his power to create human beings whom he foreknew and predestinated should be eternally tormented, could be neither wise, just nor loving. His standard would be lower than that of many men.”
But young Russell was no atheist; he simply could not accept the commonly understood teachings of the churches. He explained: “Gradually I was led to see that though each of the creeds contained some elements of truth, they were, on the whole, misleading and contradictory of God’s Word.” Indeed, in the creeds of the churches, “elements of truth” were buried under a morass of pagan teachings that had infiltrated tainted Christianity during the centuries-long apostasy. Turning away from church creeds and searching for truth, Russell examined some leading Oriental religions, only to find these unsatisfying.
Reestablished in Faith
The twig, though, had been trained by God-fearing parents; it was inclined “in the direction of the Lord.” While he was still searching for truth, one evening in 1869, something happened that reestablished Charles’ wavering faith. Walking along near the Russells’ store on Federal Street, he heard religious singing coming from a basement hall. In his own words, this is what took place:
“Seemingly by accident, one evening I dropped into a dusty, dingy hall, where I had heard religious services were held, to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches. There, for the first time, I heard something of the views of Second Adventists [Advent Christian Church], the preacher being Mr. Jonas Wendell . . . Thus, I confess indebtedness to Adventists as well as to other denominations. Though his Scripture exposition was not entirely clear, . . . it was sufficient, under God, to re-establish my wavering faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and to show that the records of the apostles and prophets are indissolubly linked. What I heard sent me to my Bible to study with more zeal and care than ever before, and I shall ever thank the Lord for that leading; for though Adventism helped me to no single truth, it did help me greatly in the unlearning of errors, and thus prepared me for the Truth.”
That meeting renewed young Russell’s determination to search for Scriptural truth. It sent him back to his Bible with more eagerness than ever before. Russell soon came to believe that the time was near for those who served the Lord to come to a clear knowledge of His purpose. So, in 1870, fired by enthusiasm, he and a few acquaintances in Pittsburgh and nearby Allegheny got together and formed a class for Bible study. According to a later associate of Russell, the small Bible class was conducted in this manner: “Someone would raise a question. They would discuss it. They would look up all related scriptures on the point and then, when they were satisfied on the harmony of these texts, they would finally state their conclusion and make a record of it.” As Russell later acknowledged, the period “from 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace and knowledge and love of God and his Word.”
As they researched the Scriptures, a number of things became clearer to these sincere truth seekers. They saw the Scriptural truths pertaining to the mortality of the human soul and that immortality was a gift to be attained by those who became joint heirs with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 2:6, 7) They began to grasp the doctrine of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the opportunity that this provision made possible for humankind. (Matt. 20:28) They came to recognize that although Jesus first came to the earth as a man in the flesh, at his return he would be invisibly present as a spirit person. (John 14:19) They further learned that the object of Jesus’ return was, not to destroy everyone, but to bless the obedient families of the earth. (Gal. 3:8) Russell wrote: “We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up.”
The Scriptural truths that became clear to this little Bible class were certainly a departure from the pagan doctrines that had filtered into Christianity during the centuries-long apostasy. But did Russell and his spiritually-minded associates gain these truths from the Bible unaided by others?
Influence of Others
Russell referred quite openly to the assistance in Bible study he had received from others. Not only did he acknowledge his indebtedness to Second Adventist Jonas Wendell but he also spoke with affection about two other individuals who had aided him in Bible study. Russell said of these two men: “The study of the Word of God with these dear brethren led, step by step, into greener pastures.” One, George W. Stetson, was an earnest student of the Bible and pastor of the Advent Christian Church in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
The other, George Storrs, was publisher of the magazine Bible Examiner, in Brooklyn, New York. Storrs, who was born on December 13, 1796, was initially stimulated to examine what the Bible says about the condition of the dead as a result of reading something published (though at the time anonymously) by a careful student of the Bible, Henry Grew, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Storrs became a zealous advocate of what was called conditional immortality—the teaching that the soul is mortal and that immortality is a gift to be attained by faithful Christians. He also reasoned that since the wicked do not have immortality, there is no eternal torment. Storrs traveled extensively, lecturing on the subject of no immortality for the wicked. Among his published works was the Six Sermons, which eventually attained a distribution of 200,000 copies. Without a doubt, Storrs’ strong Bible-based views on the mortality of the soul as well as the atonement and restitution (restoration of what was lost due to Adamic sin; Acts 3:21) had a strong, positive influence on young Charles T. Russell.
Yet, another man who had a profound effect on Russell’s life also caused his loyalty to Scriptural truth to be put to the test.
Time Prophecies and the Presence of the Lord
One morning in January 1876, 23-year-old Russell received a copy of a religious periodical called Herald of the Morning. From the picture on the cover, he could see that it was identified with Adventism. The editor, Nelson H. Barbour, of Rochester, New York, believed that the object of Christ’s return was not to destroy the families of the earth but to bless them and that his coming would be not in the flesh but as a spirit. Why, this was in agreement with what Russell and his associates in Allegheny had believed for some time!* Curiously, though, Barbour believed from Biblical time-prophecies that Christ was already present (invisibly) and that the harvest work of gathering “the wheat” (true Christians making up the Kingdom class) was already due.—Matt., chap. 13.
Russell had shied away from Biblical time prophecies. Now, however, he wondered: “Could it be that the time prophecies which I had so long despised, because of their misuse by Adventists, were really meant to indicate when the Lord would be invisibly present to set up his Kingdom?” With his insatiable thirst for Scriptural truth, Russell had to learn more. So he arranged to meet with Barbour in Philadelphia. This meeting confirmed their agreement on a number of Bible teachings and provided an opportunity for them to exchange views. “When we first met,” Russell later stated, “he had much to learn from me on the fulness of restitution based upon the sufficiency of the ransom given for all, as I had much to learn from him concerning time.” Barbour succeeded in convincing Russell that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874.*
“Resolved Upon a Vigorous Campaign for the Truth”
C. T. Russell was a man of positive convictions. Convinced that Christ’s invisible presence had begun, he was determined to proclaim it to others. He later said: “The knowledge of the fact that we were already in the harvest period gave to me an impetus to spread the Truth such as I never had before. I therefore at once resolved upon a vigorous campaign for the Truth.” Russell now decided to curtail his business interests so as to devote himself to preaching.
To counteract wrong views regarding the Lord’s return, Russell wrote the pamphlet The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return. It was published in 1877. That same year Barbour and Russell jointly published Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World. This 196-page book discussed the subjects of restitution and Biblical time prophecies. Though each subject had been treated by others before, in Russell’s view this book was “the first to combine the idea of restitution with time-prophecy.” It presented the view that Jesus Christ’s invisible presence dated from the autumn of 1874.
As Russell traveled and preached, it became evident to him that something more was needed to keep the seeds of truth he was sowing alive and watered. The answer? “A monthly journal,” said Russell. So he and Barbour decided to revive publication of the Herald, which had been suspended because of canceled subscriptions and exhausted funds. Russell contributed his own funds to revive the journal, becoming one of its coeditors.
All went well for a while—until 1878, that is.
Russell Breaks With Barbour
In the August 1878 issue of Herald of the Morning, there appeared an article by Barbour that denied the substitutionary value of Christ’s death. Russell, who was nearly 30 years younger than Barbour, could see that this was, in fact, denying the essential part of the ransom doctrine. So in the very next issue (September 1878), Russell, in an article entitled “The Atonement,” upheld the ransom and contradicted Barbour’s statements. The controversy continued in the pages of the journal for the next few months. Finally, Russell decided to withdraw from fellowship with Mr. Barbour and discontinued further financial support to the Herald.
C. T. Russell, though, felt that to withdraw from the Herald was not enough; the ransom doctrine must be defended and Christ’s presence must be proclaimed. Hence, in July 1879, Russell began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.* Russell was the editor and publisher, with five others originally listed as contributors to its columns. The first issue had a printing of 6,000 copies. By 1914 the printing of each issue was about 50,000 copies.
“Not as New, Not as Our Own, But as the Lord’s”
C. T. Russell used the Watch Tower and other publications to uphold Bible truths and to refute false religious teachings and human philosophies that contradicted the Bible. He did not, however, claim to discover new truths.
From the latter part of the 18th century, many ministers and Bible scholars had been exposing the false teachings of the immortality of the soul and eternal punishment for the wicked. This exposé had been thoroughly reported in the book Bible Vs. Tradition, by Aaron Ellis, originally published in England and then in the United States in 1853 by George Storrs. But no one at that time did more than C. T. Russell and his associates to make this truth known.
What about other Bible doctrines that were discussed in the Watch Tower and other publications? Did Russell take full credit for uncovering these gems of truth? Explained Russell: “We found that for centuries various sects and parties had split up the Bible doctrines amongst them, blending them with more or less of human speculation and error . . . We found the important doctrine of justification by faith and not by works had been clearly enunciated by Luther and more recently by many Christians; that divine justice and power and wisdom were carefully guarded tho not clearly discerned by Presbyterians; that Methodists appreciated and extolled the love and sympathy of God; that Adventists held the precious doctrine of the Lord’s return; that Baptists amongst other points held the doctrine of baptism symbolically correctly, even tho they had lost sight of the real baptism; that some Universalists had long held vaguely some thoughts respecting ‘restitution.’ And so, nearly all denominations gave evidence that their founders had been feeling after truth: but quite evidently the great Adversary had fought against them and had wrongly divided the Word of God which he could not wholly destroy.”
Concerning the chronology he often presented, Russell stated: “When we say ‘our’ chronology we merely mean the one we use, the Bible chronology, which belongs to all of God’s people who approve it. As a matter of fact it was used in practically the form we present it long before our day, just as various prophecies we use were used to a different purpose by Adventists, and just as various doctrines we hold and which seem so new and fresh and different were held in some form long ago: for instance—Election, Free Grace, Restitution, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification, Resurrection.”
Then how did Russell perceive the role that he and his associates played in publishing Scriptural truth? He explained: “Our work . . . has been to bring together these long scattered fragments of truth and present them to the Lord’s people—not as new, not as our own, but as the Lord’s. . . . We must disclaim any credit even for the finding and rearrangement of the jewels of truth.” He further stated: “The work in which the Lord has been pleased to use our humble talents has been less a work of origination than of reconstruction, adjustment, harmonization.”
Russell thus was quite modest about his accomplishments. Nevertheless, the “scattered fragments of truth” that he brought together and presented to the Lord’s people were free of the God-dishonoring pagan doctrines of the Trinity and immortality of the soul, which had become entrenched in the churches of Christendom as a result of the great apostasy. Like no one at that time, Russell and his associates proclaimed worldwide the meaning of the Lord’s return and of the divine purpose and what it involved.
‘Building Each Other Up in the Most Holy Faith’
Honesthearted persons quickly responded to the liberating truths that C. T. Russell and his associates were proclaiming both through the printed page and in lectures. Russell, still less than 30 years of age, soon realized that there was a need for the readers of the Watch Tower to get acquainted with fellow believers and encourage one another. The Bible Students in Pittsburgh were doing this by regularly meeting together, but what could be done to help Watch Tower readers in other places?
The answer came in the Watch Tower issues of May and June 1880. There Russell announced his plans to visit a number of towns and cities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York. For what purpose? “Our readers,” the announcement explained, “are much scattered, some places 2 and 3, and on up to 50. Many places they are totally unacquainted with each other, and thus lose the sympathy and comfort which our Father designed should come to them by ‘The assembling of themselves together as the manner of some is.’ It is His design that we should ‘Edify one another,’ and build each other up in the most holy faith. The proposed meetings we would hope, might conduce to personal acquaintance.”—Heb. 10:24, 25.
The “proposed meetings” were held during Russell’s trip, and they proved very successful; readers of the Watch Tower were drawn closer together. These and other trips to visit “little bands of waiting ones” soon resulted in the forming of a number of classes, or ecclesias (later called congregations), located in the aforementioned areas as well as in Ohio and Michigan. These classes were encouraged to hold regular meetings. But what kind of meetings?
The Pittsburgh class had established the custom of meeting together at least twice each week. One meeting of the Pittsburgh class often included a lecture by a qualified speaker to the entire ecclesia, perhaps in a rented hall. But at the other meetings, usually held in private homes, those in attendance were invited to bring Bible, concordance, paper, and pencil—and to participate.
The warm spiritual fellowship experienced at those regular weekly meetings was a refreshing change from the cold, impersonal atmosphere at the services of many of the churches of Christendom. But Russell and his associates did not pioneer the idea of regularly meeting together. That custom of assembling, even in private homes, was established by the first-century Christians.—Rom. 16:3, 5; Col. 4:15.
“Are You Preaching?”
C. T. Russell and his associates strongly believed that they were in a time of harvest and that people needed to hear liberating truth. Yet, they were few in number. The Watch Tower was filling a vital need, but could more be done? Russell and his coworkers thought so. During 1880 they began to produce Bible Students’ Tracts (later also called Old Theology Quarterly), and these were provided to readers of the Watch Tower for free distribution to the public.
Yes, readers of the Watch Tower were encouraged to share with others the precious truths they were learning. “Are you preaching?” was the question raised in the combined Watch Tower issue of July and August 1881. How important was it for them to preach? The article went on to state: “We believe that none will be of the little flock except preachers. . . . Yes, we were called to suffer with him and to proclaim that good news now, that in due time we might be glorified and perform the things now preached. We were not called, nor anointed to receive honor and amass wealth, but to spend and be spent, and to preach the good news.”
It is appropriate that those early Bible Students felt keenly the need to preach the good news. In fact, the commission to preach was placed upon the first-century Christians; it is a responsibility that rests upon all genuine Christians to this day. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8) But what was the objective of the preaching done by Russell and the early readers of the Watch Tower? Was it simply to distribute Bible literature or awaken churchgoers to Scriptural truths?
“You Must . . . Leave Her”
“Get out of her, my people,” the Bible long ago warned. Out of what? “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.” (Rev. 17:5; 18:4) Why get out of Babylon? “For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.” (Rev. 18:5) Who is this mother harlot from whom people should separate themselves?
Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation identified the Catholic Church and its papacy as Babylon the Great. What about the Protestant churches that sprang up as a result of the Reformation? The fact is, apart from their rejection of the primacy of the pope, some were not much different from Catholicism in church structure, and they retained unscriptural doctrines, such as the Trinity, immortality of the soul, and eternal torment. For this reason some preachers urged people to break free not only from the Catholic Church but also from the main Protestant church systems.
C. T. Russell and his associates also realized that this infamous harlot was not merely the Catholic Church. Thus, while the Watch Tower of November 1879 identified Babylon the Great with the “Papacy as a SYSTEM,” the article added: “We must go further and implicate, (not the individual members, but the church systems) other churches united to the Empires of earth. Every church claiming to be a chaste virgin espoused to Christ, but in reality united to and supported by the world (beast) we must condemn as being in scripture language a harlot church.”
What, therefore, were readers of the Watch Tower encouraged to do? Russell wrote: “If the church with which you are connected, lives in adulterous union with the world, you must, if you would keep your garments white, leave her.” Russell and his associates did not then understand the full range of the influence of Babylon the Great. Nevertheless, readers of the Watch Tower were urged to separate themselves from church systems that were corrupt and worldly.—John 18:36.
“Its Truth Captured My Heart At Once”
The publishing of Bible truths took a significant step forward in 1886 with the release of the first volume of a promised series of books called Millennial Dawn, written by C. T. Russell. Volume I was called The Divine Plan of the Ages. It contained studies on 16 subjects, such as “The Existence of a Supreme Intelligent Creator Established,” “The Bible as a Divine Revelation Viewed in the Light of Reason,” “Our Lord’s Return—Its Object, the Restitution of All Things,” and “The Permission of Evil and Its Relation to God’s Plan.” Eventually, C. T. Russell wrote five other books of the Millennial Dawn series.*
Russell did not survive to write an intended seventh volume of the series, but the widespread distribution of the six volumes that he did complete struck a responsive chord in honesthearted persons. “Your book MILLENNIAL DAWN came to me last Fall,” wrote one woman in 1889, “the first hint I ever had of such a work. I received it on a Saturday evening, commenced to read it immediately and never laid it aside, except when obliged, until finished. Its truth captured my heart at once; forthwith I withdrew from the Presbyterian Church where I had so long been groping in the dark for the truth, and found it not.”
It took real courage in those days to withdraw from one’s church. Demonstrating this was a woman in Manitoba, Canada, who came into possession of Millennial Dawn in 1897. At first, she tried to stay with her church and teach in local Sunday schools. The day came, in 1903, when she decided to make a break. She stood up and told all present why she felt she must separate from the church. The nearest neighbor (dear to people in small communities in those days) tried to persuade her to go back to church. But she stood firm, even though there was no congregation of Bible Students nearby. As her son later described her situation: “No study servant [elder] to lean on. No meetings. A contrite heart. A worn Bible. Long prayerful hours.”
What was it about Millennial Dawn, the Watch Tower, and other publications of the Society that captured the hearts of people and moved them to take such decisive action? C. T. Russell took an approach to explaining Bible teachings that was distinct from many writers of his day. He believed the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and that its teachings should be harmonious. Therefore, if any part of the Bible is difficult to understand, he felt, it should be clarified and interpreted by another part of the inspired Word. He did not try to support the explanations he presented with the testimony of theologians of his day or with the views of the so-called early church fathers. As he wrote in Volume I of Millennial Dawn: “We believe it to be a common failing of the present and all times for men to believe certain doctrines because others did so, in whom they had confidence. . . . Truth-seekers should empty their vessels of the muddy waters of tradition and fill them at the fountain of truth—God’s Word.”
As a growing number of such truth seekers responded to what they read in publications of the Watch Tower Society, some unexpected changes became necessary in Allegheny.
Headquarters at the Bible House
The Bible Students in Allegheny, associated with the publishing of the Watch Tower, were considered the most experienced in doing the Lord’s work and were looked to by all the ecclesias, or congregations, as those taking the lead. At first they had headquarters offices at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and later at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny. In the late 1880’s, however, expansion became necessary. So Russell arranged to build larger facilities. In 1889 a four-story brick building at 56-60 Arch Street, Allegheny, was completed. Valued at $34,000, it was known as the Bible House. It served as the Society’s headquarters for some 19 years.
As of 1890, the small Bible House family was serving the needs of several hundred active associates of the Watch Tower Society. But as the decade of the 1890’s progressed, more showed interest in what these were doing. In fact, according to an incomplete report published in the Watch Tower, on March 26, 1899, the Memorial of Christ’s death was observed at 339 separate meetings with 2,501 participants. What, though, would help to keep the growing number of Bible Students united?
Unifying the Growing Flock
C. T. Russell encouraged all readers of the Watch Tower to come together wherever they could to form groups, small or large, in order to build one another up spiritually. Scriptural counsel was provided through the columns of the Watch Tower. Traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society were also sent out from headquarters to keep in touch with the various groups and to build them up spiritually.
At intervals, there were also special assemblies attended by Bible Students from many places. “This is a SPECIAL INVITATION to every reader who can come,” urged the March 1886 issue of the Watch Tower. What was the occasion? The annual commemoration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, to be held on Sunday, April 18, 1886, at Allegheny. More, though, was planned: A series of special meetings was scheduled during the evenings of the week that followed. The Bible Students in Allegheny opened their homes—and their hearts—free of charge for the visiting delegates. For the next few years, similar assemblies were held in Allegheny at the time of the Memorial of the Lord’s death.
During the late 1890’s, conventions began to be organized in many places. C. T. Russell frequently spoke on these occasions. What was it like to listen to him?
Ralph Leffler, who heard C. T. Russell speak, recalled: “When on the platform before an audience, he always wore a long black cloak and a white necktie. His voice was not loud, and he would never use a microphone or a loudspeaker, for they had not been invented; yet, somehow his voice always carried to the most distant part of the auditorium. He could hold the attention of a large audience for not just one hour but sometimes two or three hours. He would always begin his lecture with a gentle bow to the audience. While speaking, he did not stand still like a statue, but he was always on the move, gesticulating with his arms and stepping from side to side or from front to back. I never once saw him carry any notes or a manuscript in his hands—only the Bible, which he used very frequently. He spoke from the heart and in a manner that was very convincing. Usually the only article on the platform in those days was a small table with a Bible on it and a pitcher of water and a glass from which the speaker occasionally took a sip of water.”
Those early conventions were periods of warm fellowship and spiritual refreshment. They served to strengthen the unity of all the Bible Students and to publicize Bible truths. Meanwhile, as the decade of the 1890’s drew to a close, it was evident to the Bible Students that much more needed to be done in disseminating Bible truth. But they were still relatively few in number. Was there a way of reaching millions more people than could be contacted by the methods then being used? Indeed there was!
Opening the Door of “Newspaper Gospelling”
By the end of the 19th century, the world was crisscrossed with telegraph lines. Telegraphic communication was inexpensive and fast; it revolutionized the press. News could be quickly transmitted over long distances and printed in newspapers. In the early part of the 20th century, C. T. Russell and his associates saw newspapers as an effective way of reaching large numbers of people. Russell later said: “The newspaper has become the great factor in the daily life of the civilized world.”
The December 1, 1904, issue of the Watch Tower announced that sermons by C. T. Russell were appearing in three newspapers. The next issue of the Watch Tower, under the heading “Newspaper Gospelling,” reported: “Millions of sermons have thus been scattered far and near; and some at least have done good. If the Lord wills we shall be glad to see this ‘door’ keep open, or even open still wider.” The door of “newspaper gospelling” did open still wider. In fact, by 1913 it was estimated that through 2,000 newspapers Russell’s sermons were reaching 15,000,000 readers!
How, though, did Russell manage to get a weekly sermon printed even when he was traveling? Each week he telegraphed a sermon (about two newspaper columns long) to a newspaper syndicate. The syndicate, in turn, retelegraphed it to newspapers in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Russell was convinced that the Lord had pushed the door of newspaper preaching wide open. During the first decade of the 20th century, the Bible message that Russell and his associates proclaimed became widely known through such newspaper sermons. A publication called The Continent once stated concerning Russell: “His writings are said to have greater newspaper circulation every week than those of any other living man; a greater, doubtless, than the combined circulation of the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America.”
Moving to Brooklyn
As the newspaper preaching gained momentum, the Bible Students looked for another location from which to originate the sermons. Why? The Bible House in Allegheny had become too small. It was also thought that if Russell’s sermons emanated from a larger, better-known city, it would result in the publication of the sermons in more newspapers. But which city? The Watch Tower of December 15, 1908, explained: “Altogether we concluded, after seeking Divine guidance, that Brooklyn, N.Y., with a large population of the middle class, and known as ‘The City of Churches,’ would, for these reasons, be our most suitable center for the harvest work during the few remaining years.”
In 1908, therefore, several representatives of the Watch Tower Society, including its legal counsel, Joseph F. Rutherford, were sent to New York City. Their objective? To secure property that C. T. Russell had located on an earlier trip. They purchased the old “Plymouth Bethel,” located at 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn. It had served as a mission structure for the nearby Plymouth Congregational Church, where Henry Ward Beecher once served as pastor. The Society’s representatives also purchased Beecher’s former residence, a four-story brownstone at 124 Columbia Heights, a few blocks away.
The Hicks Street building was remodeled and named the Brooklyn Tabernacle. It housed the Society’s offices and an auditorium. After considerable repairs, Beecher’s former residence at 124 Columbia Heights became the new home of the Society’s headquarters staff. What would it be called? The Watch Tower of March 1, 1909, explained: “The new home we shall call ‘Bethel’ [meaning, “House of God”].”*
“Newspaper gospelling,” as it was called, gained momentum after the move to Brooklyn. But it was not the only way of reaching masses of people.
Expanding the Proclamation of the Good News
In 1912, Russell and his associates embarked on a bold educational venture that was far ahead of its time. In fact, it was to reach millions of people worldwide. It was the “Photo-Drama of Creation”—a combination motion picture and slide presentation, synchronized with musical recordings and phonograph-record talks. It was about eight hours in length and was presented in four parts. Besides the regular “Photo-Drama,” the “Eureka Drama,” consisting of either the recorded lectures and musical recordings or the records plus the slides, was also made available. Though it lacked motion pictures, it was successfully presented in less densely populated areas.
Imagine the historic scene: In January 1914, during the era of silent movies,* an audience of 5,000 gathered at The Temple, a building on West 63rd Street, in New York City. Many others had to be turned away. The occasion? Why, the premiere in New York of the “Photo-Drama of Creation”! Before the audience was a large motion-picture screen. As they watched—and listened—something truly amazing happened. C. T. Russell, then in his early 60’s, appeared on the screen. His lips began to move, and his words could be heard! As the presentation continued, it took those in attendance—by means of words, color pictures, and music—from earth’s creation to the end of Christ’s Millennial Reign. During the presentation they also saw (by means of time-lapse photography) other things that astounded them—the unfolding of a flower and the hatching of a chick. They were truly impressed!
By the end of 1914, the “Photo-Drama” had been presented before millions of persons in North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. The “Photo-Drama” certainly proved to be an effective means of reaching masses of people in a relatively short period of time.
Meanwhile, what about October 1914? For decades Russell and his associates had been proclaiming that the Gentile Times would end in 1914. Expectations were high. C. T. Russell had been critical of those who had set various dates for the Lord’s return, such as William Miller and some Second Adventist groups. Yet, from the time of his early association with Nelson Barbour, he was convinced that there was an accurate chronology, based on the Bible, and that it pointed to 1914 as the end of the Gentile Times.
As that significant year approached, there were great expectations among the Bible Students, but not all that they expected had been directly stated in Scripture. What would happen?
The Watch Tower, July 15, 1906, p. 229.
Neither Barbour nor Russell was the first to explain the Lord’s return as an invisible presence. Much earlier, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) had written that Christ would return and reign “invisible to mortals.” In 1856, Joseph Seiss, a Lutheran minister in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had written about a two-stage second advent—an invisible pa·rou·siʹa, or presence, followed by a visible manifestation. Then, in 1864, Benjamin Wilson had published his Emphatic Diaglott with the interlinear reading “presence,” not “coming,” for pa·rou·siʹa, and B. W. Keith, an associate of Barbour, had drawn it to the attention of Barbour and his associates.
A clearer understanding of Bible chronology was published in later years. See Chapter 10, “Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth.”
The expression “Watch Tower” is not unique to Russell’s writings or to Jehovah’s Witnesses. George Storrs published a book in the 1850’s called The Watch Tower: Or, Man in Death; and the Hope for a Future Life. The name was also incorporated in the title of various religious periodicals. It stems from the idea of keeping on the watch for the outworking of God’s purposes.—Isa. 21:8, 11, 12; Ezek. 3:17; Hab. 2:1.
They were: Volume II, The Time Is at Hand (1889); Volume III, Thy Kingdom Come (1891); Volume IV, The Day of Vengeance (1897; later called The Battle of Armageddon); Volume V, The At-one-ment Between God and Man (1899); and Volume VI, The New Creation (1904). When the Millennial Dawn volumes began to be called Studies in the Scriptures, Volume I was designated as “Series I,” Volume II as “Series II,” and so forth. The name Studies in the Scriptures was adopted in limited editions beginning about October 1904, and the new name was more generally used beginning in 1906.
Later, the adjoining property, 122 Columbia Heights, was purchased, thus enlarging the Bethel Home. Also, in 1911 an additional building was added to the rear of the Bethel Home, providing new housing accommodations.
Although there were early attempts to combine motion pictures with sound, the era of sound pictures was introduced in August 1926 with the release of Don Juan (with music but no speech), followed by The Jazz Singer (with speech) in the fall of 1927.
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‘Called to preach the good news’
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“Let Both Grow Together Until the Harvest”
What happened to true Christianity after the first century? In an illustration, Jesus had warned that the Devil would sow “weeds,” imitation Christians, in among “the wheat,” true Christians, “the sons of the kingdom.” Both would grow together until “the harvest,” the “conclusion of a system of things.” (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) During the great apostasy that developed after the death of the apostles, “the weeds” predominated for many centuries.
But what about “the wheat”? Who were among “the sons of the kingdom” during the centuries-long apostasy? We cannot say for a certainty. The literal weeds of Jesus’ illustration are generally considered to be bearded darnel, which very much resembles wheat until maturity, when it can readily be distinguished from wheat by its smaller black seeds. Similarly, only at “the harvest” would a clear distinction be made between imitation Christians and the true “sons of the kingdom.” Nevertheless, Jesus said: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” True Christianity, then, was never completely stamped out.
Throughout the centuries there have always been truth lovers. To mention just a few: John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384) and William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) furthered the work of Bible translation even at the risk of their life or freedom. Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (1478-1541), Martin Cellarius (1499-1564), Johannes Campanus (c. 1500-1575), and Thomas Emlyn (1663-c. 1741) accepted the Bible as God’s Word and rejected the Trinity. Henry Grew (1781-1862) and George Storrs (1796-1879) not only accepted the Bible and rejected the Trinity but also expressed appreciation for the ransom sacrifice of Christ.
Although we cannot positively identify any of such persons as “the wheat” of Jesus’ illustration, certainly “Jehovah knows those who belong to him.” —2 Tim. 2:19.
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George W. Stetson—“A Man of Marked Ability”
C. T. Russell gratefully acknowledged the assistance that was given him by George W. Stetson, of Edinboro, Pennsylvania, in studying the Scriptures. Stetson died on October 9, 1879, at the age of 64. The following month the “Watch Tower” carried an announcement of Stetson’s death that revealed 27-year-old Russell’s deep respect for him. “Our brother was a man of marked ability,” wrote Russell, “and surrendered bright prospects of worldly and political honors to be permitted to preach Christ.” Stetson’s dying request was that C. T. Russell preach his funeral sermon; Russell complied with the request. “About twelve hundred persons attended the funeral services,” reported Russell, “thus giving evidence of the high esteem in which our brother was held.”—The “Watch Tower,” November 1879.
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George Storrs—“A Friend and Brother”
C. T. Russell felt a sense of indebtedness to George Storrs, who was some 56 years his senior. Russell had learned much from Storrs about the mortality of the soul. So when Storrs lay seriously ill late in 1879, Russell offered to print in the “Watch Tower” a statement of Storrs’ condition. “Our brother,” Russell wrote, “so long the editor of ‘The Bible Examiner’ is known to most of our readers; also that he has been obliged by severe illness to discontinue his paper.” In Russell’s estimation, Storrs had “much reason to thank God for being privileged to spend so long a life and one so consecrated to the Master.” Storrs died on December 28, 1879, at the age of 83. An announcement of his death appeared in the February 1880 issue of the “Watch Tower,” which said: “We mourn the loss of a friend and brother in Christ yet, ‘not as those who have no hope.’”
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“I Leave the ‘Herald’ With You”
In the spring of 1879, C. T. Russell withdrew all support from the magazine “Herald of the Morning,” which he had shared in publishing with N. H. Barbour. In a letter to Barbour dated May 3, 1879, Russell explained his reason: “There has arisen a difference of view between us as to the teaching of our Father’s word [regarding the substitutionary value of the ransom] and while giving you credit for all sincerity and honesty in your views, which I claim for myself in the opposite view, yet I must be guided by my own understanding of our Father’s word, and consequently think you to be in error. . . . The points of variance seem to me to be so fundamental and important that the full fellowship and sympathy such as should exist among publishers and editors of a paper or magazine, no longer obtains between you and me, and because this is the case, I feel that our relationship should cease.”
In a follow-up letter dated May 22, 1879, Russell wrote: “Now I leave the ‘Herald’ with you. I withdraw entirely from it, asking nothing from you . . . Please announce in next No. of the ‘Herald’ the dissolution and withdraw my name.” Starting with the June 1879 issue, Russell’s name no longer appeared as an assistant editor of the “Herald.”
Barbour continued to publish the “Herald” until 1903, when, according to available library records, it ceased publication. Barbour died a few years later, in 1906.
Nelson H. Barbour
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Why Called Pastor
Charles Taze Russell was referred to by his associates as Pastor Russell. Why? Because of his activities in shepherding the flock of God. Ephesians 4:11 states that Christ would give to his congregation some as “pastors” (“KJ”), or “shepherds.” Brother Russell certainly did serve as a spiritual shepherd in the Christian congregation.
In view of the pastoral work that he was doing under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, certain congregations acknowledged by vote that he was their pastor. It was not a self-assumed title. The first group to vote him their pastor was the congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1882. Thereafter, he was voted pastor by some 500 other congregations, in the United States and Britain.
Back then, it was customary for the congregations to vote each year for those who would preside among them. Today, Christian elders among Jehovah’s Witnesses are not elected by local congregations but are appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Care is also exercised not to use expressions such as “pastor” or “elder” as titles.
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The “Photo-Drama of Creation”
The “Photo-Drama of Creation” combined motion pictures and a slide presentation, synchronized with sound. This striking presentation took the audience from the time of creation to the end of the Millennium.
At least 20 four-part sets were prepared, making it possible for a part of the “Photo-Drama” to be shown in 80 different cities each day. It was a real challenge to fill those 80 engagements. Train schedules were not always convenient. Congregations could not always rent exhibition locations on the desired dates. Yet, by the end of 1914, the “Photo-Drama” had been presented to audiences totaling over 9,000,000 in North America, Europe, and Australia.
“Scenario” of the “Photo-Drama,” containing the lectures and many illustrations
Theaters used full-time for showings of the “Photo-Drama”
Slides from the “Photo-Drama”
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“Look Out for 1914!”
When World War I broke out in 1914, “The World,” then a leading newspaper in New York City, stated in its magazine section: “The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. . . . ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of travelling evangelists, who, representing this strange creed [associated with Russell], have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’”—“The World Magazine,” August 30, 1914.
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Charles Taze Russell
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Joseph L. Russell, Charles’ father, was a member of the Allegheny Bible study class and a close associate of his son in the activities of the Watch Tower Society until his death in 1897
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The Bible Students distributed tens of millions of copies of tracts that exposed religious error, explained Scriptural truths, and proclaimed the significant year 1914
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C. T. Russell penned six volumes of “Millennial Dawn” (1886 to 1904) as well as tracts, booklets, and “Watch Tower” articles over a period of about 37 years
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When he gave public lectures, Brother Russell did not use any notes, and he was always on the move—gesturing with his arms and stepping about the platform
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It was estimated that one year, through 2,000 newspapers, C. T. Russell’s sermons were reaching 15,000,000 readers