By Human Power? Or by God’s Spirit?
THE assignment that Jesus Christ set before his followers was one of seemingly impossible proportions. Although few in number, they were to proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom in all the inhabited earth. (Matt. 24:14; Acts 1:8) Not only was the task gigantic in size but it was to be done in the face of apparently overwhelming odds because, as Jesus frankly told his disciples, they would be hated and persecuted in all nations.—Matt. 24:9; John 15:19, 20.
In the face of global opposition, Jehovah’s Witnesses have vigorously applied themselves to accomplish the work that Jesus foretold. The extent to which the witness has already been given is a matter of record, and a truly spectacular one. But what has made it possible? Has it been human power or ingenuity? Or has it been the operation of the spirit of God?
The Bible record concerning the restoration of true worship in Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.E. reminds us that God’s own role in the accomplishment of his will should never be overlooked. Secular commentators may search for some other explanation for what takes place. However, when explaining how his purpose would be accomplished, God caused his prophet Zechariah to declare: “‘Not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Zech. 4:6) Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hesitate to say that this is how the preaching of the Kingdom message is being accomplished today—not by resorting to military force, nor by reason of the personal power or influence of any prominent group of men, but as a result of the operation of Jehovah’s spirit. Does the evidence support their conviction?
“Not Many Wise in a Fleshly Way”
When writing to early Christians in Greece, the apostle Paul acknowledged: “You behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.”—1 Cor. 1:26-29.
Jesus’ own apostles were from the working class. Four were fishermen by trade. One had been a tax collector, a profession despised by the Jews. These apostles were men who were viewed by the Jewish clergy as “unlettered and ordinary,” indicating that their education was not from the schools of higher learning. (Acts 4:13) This does not mean that none who had more secular or religious education became Christians. The apostle Paul had studied at the feet of the learned Gamaliel, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (Acts 22:3) But, as the scripture says, there were “not many” of such.
History testifies that Celsus, a Roman philosopher of the second century C.E., makes it a matter of mockery that “labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men, should be zealous preachers of the Gospel.” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, by Augustus Neander) In the face of the scorn and violent persecution heaped upon them in the Roman Empire, what fortified true Christians to continue to be proclaimers of the good news? Jesus had said that it would be God’s holy spirit.—Acts 1:8.
In more recent times, Jehovah’s Witnesses have likewise been reproached because they are, for the most part, common people, not ones whose station in life causes the world to look up to them. Among the first of Jehovah’s modern-day servants to introduce the Kingdom message to people in Denmark was a shoemaker. In Switzerland and France, it was a gardener. In many parts of Africa, the message was carried by itinerant workers. In Brazil, sailors had a share. Quite a few of the Polish Witnesses in northern France were coal miners.
Having been deeply moved by what they had learned from God’s Word with the help of Watch Tower publications, they wanted to demonstrate their love for Jehovah by obeying him, so they undertook the work that God’s Word says true Christians would do. Since then, millions more from all walks of life have joined in this work. All of them are evangelizers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses form the only religious organization in the world in which every member personally witnesses to nonbelievers, endeavors to answer their questions from the Bible, and urges them to put faith in God’s Word. Other religious organizations acknowledge that this is what all Christians should do. Some have tried to encourage their church members to do it. But only Jehovah’s Witnesses consistently do it. Whose direction, whose counsel, whose assurance of loving support, and whose promises motivate them to do this work that others shun? Ask them yourself. No matter what the nation in which they live, they will reply: “Jehovah’s.” To whom, then, should credit be given?
A Role Foretold for the Angels of God
In describing the events that would take place during the conclusion of this system of things, Jesus showed that it would not only be his followers on earth who would share in the gathering of lovers of righteousness. At Matthew chapter 13, when discussing the gathering of the final ones who would share with him in the heavenly Kingdom, Jesus said: “The reapers are angels.” And from how large a field would they gather these “sons of the kingdom”? “The field is the world,” Jesus explained. Thus, those gathered would come from the far-flung corners of the globe. Has this actually occurred?—Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43.
Indeed it has! Although the Bible Students numbered only a few thousand as the world entered its last days in 1914, the Kingdom message that they preached quickly encircled the globe. In the Orient, in countries of Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and in the islands, individuals embraced the opportunity to serve the interests of God’s Kingdom and were gathered into one united organization.
In Western Australia, for example, the Kingdom message reached Bert Horton. Religion as he knew it did not interest him; he had been involved in politics and trade-union activities. But when his mother gave him the Watch Tower publication The Divine Plan of the Ages and he began to read it along with the Bible, he knew that he had found the truth. Spontaneously he shared it with his workmates. When he was able to locate the Bible Students, he gladly associated with them, got baptized in 1922, took up the full-time ministry, and offered to serve in whatever area Jehovah’s organization directed.
On the other side of the earth, W. R. Brown, who had already been preaching in the Caribbean islands, left for Africa in 1923 to spread the Kingdom message there. He was not an independent preacher on some personal mission. He too was working with Jehovah’s organized people. He had offered to serve where he was needed, and he took up the assignment in West Africa in response to direction from the headquarters office. Those who personally benefited from his ministry were also helped to appreciate the importance of working closely with Jehovah’s organization.
The Kingdom proclamation also reached into South America. Hermán Seegelken in Mendoza, Argentina, had long been aware of the hypocrisy in both the Catholic and the Protestant churches. But in 1929 he too heard the message of the Kingdom, eagerly accepted it, and began to share it with others, in unity with Jehovah’s servants worldwide. Similar experiences took place around the globe. People “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” though scattered geographically and pursuing diverse ways of life, not only listened but offered themselves in God’s service. They were gathered into a unified organization to do the work that Jesus had foretold for this time. (Rev. 5:9, 10) What accounts for this?
The Bible says that the angels of God would have a vital role in it. Because of this, the proclamation of the Kingdom would reverberate around the globe like the sound of a trumpet from a superhuman source. In fact, by 1935 it had penetrated 149 lands—to the north, the south, the east, and the west, from one end of the earth to the other.
At first, only a “little flock” showed genuine appreciation for God’s Kingdom and were willing to serve its interests. That is what the Bible had foretold. Now a rapidly growing “great crowd,” numbering into the millions out of all nations, have come to be associated with them. That, too, was foretold in God’s Word. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16; Rev. 7:9, 10) These are not people who simply profess to share the same religion but who, in reality, are divided among themselves by all the attitudes and philosophies that fragment the world around them. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not merely talk about God’s Kingdom while actually putting their trust in the rulership of men. Even at risk to their lives, they obey God as ruler. The Bible clearly states that the gathering together of such people who “fear God and give him glory” would be done under the direction of the angels. (Rev. 14:6, 7; Matt. 25:31-46) The Witnesses are firmly convinced that this is what has actually taken place.
On countless occasions, as they have shared in their ministry, they have seen convincing evidence of heavenly direction. For example, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a group of Witnesses were completing their house-to-house calls one Sunday when one of the group said: “I want to continue working a while. For some reason I want to go to that house.” The one in charge of the group suggested that they leave it for another day, but the publisher insisted. At that door the Witness found a woman who, with tears streaming down her face, said that she had just been praying for help. She had previously been contacted by the Witnesses but had not shown interest in the Bible’s message. However, the sudden death of her husband had made her realize her need for spiritual help. She had looked for the Kingdom Hall, but in vain. Earnestly she had been praying to God for help, and now it was at her door. Not long thereafter she was baptized. She was convinced that God had heard her prayer and had taken the needed action to provide an answer.—Ps. 65:2.
A German Witness of Jehovah who used to live in New York made it a regular practice to pray to God for direction as she engaged in her ministry. There was an interested woman that she had been looking for, week after week, on the street because she did not know where the woman lived. Then, one day in 1987, as the Witness started out in the ministry, she prayed: “Jehovah, you know where she is. Please help me to find her.” A few minutes later, she saw the woman sitting in a restaurant.
Was it just an accident? The Bible says that true Christians are “God’s fellow workers” and that the angels are sent “to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation.” (1 Cor. 3:9; Heb. 1:14) After the Witness told the woman how she had found her, the woman accepted an invitation to sit down and examine the Bible further that very day.
Reaching ‘Inaccessible Territories’ With the Good News
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persistent in their efforts to reach all lands with the Kingdom message. But this does not fully explain what has been accomplished. They have seen the Kingdom message spread out into areas where all their carefully planned efforts had been repulsed.
For example, on more than one occasion during the 1920’s and 1930’s, earnest representations were made to government officials in what was then the Soviet Union to obtain permission to ship Bible literature into that land or to print it there. The replies at that time were negative. There were a few of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union, but much more help was needed to accomplish the preaching work that God’s Word said must be done. Could anything be done to provide that help?
Interestingly, at the end of World War II, along with many other people, more than a thousand of Jehovah’s Witnesses from what had been eastern Poland found themselves within the Soviet Union. In the Ravensbrück concentration camp, hundreds of young Russian women had come to know fellow prisoners who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of these women dedicated themselves to Jehovah during that time, and later they were returned to various parts of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of others also found themselves inhabitants of the Soviet Union as national borders changed during the war. The outcome was not what the Soviet government had in mind. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses did not arrange it. But it did serve toward the accomplishment of what God’s inspired Word had foretold. Commenting on these developments, The Watchtower said: “Thus it can be seen how, in the Lord’s providence, he can raise up witnesses in any land, there to hold high the banner of truth and make known the name of Jehovah.”—Issue of February 1, 1946.
It has not been just one country that has said to Jehovah’s Witnesses: ‘You can’t come in here!’ or, ‘You can’t preach here.’ It has occurred again and again around the earth, in literally scores of lands, frequently as a result of clergy pressure on government officials. Some of these countries later granted legal status to Jehovah’s Witnesses. But even before that took place, the worship of Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, had been embraced by thousands of people within their borders. How was that accomplished?
The simple explanation is found in the Bible, namely, that angels of God have a prominent role in carrying to people of every nation the urgent appeal: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived, and so worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.”—Rev. 14:6, 7.
Success Against Overwhelming Odds
What Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced in some lands are not merely prohibitions imposed on their public ministry but efforts to stamp them out completely.
During World War I, a concerted effort was made by the clergy in the United States and Canada to put an end to the work of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. This is a matter of public record. In spite of legal guarantees of freedom of speech and of religion, the clergy pressured government officials to ban literature of the Bible Students. Many were arrested and held without bail; others were viciously beaten. Officials of the Watch Tower Society and their close associates were given long prison terms in court proceedings that were later shown to be invalid. Said Ray Abrams in his book Preachers Present Arms: “An analysis of the whole case leads to the conclusion that the churches and the clergy were originally behind the movement to stamp out the Russellites,” as the clergy disparagingly called the Bible Students. But following the war, those Bible Students emerged with greater vigor than ever to advertise Jehovah’s King, Jesus Christ, and his Kingdom. From where did that renewed vigor come? The Bible had foretold such an occurrence and had said that it would be as a result of “spirit of life from God.”—Rev. 11:7-11.
Following the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses intensified in lands that came under Nazi control. There were arrests and brutal treatment. Bans were imposed. Finally, in October 1934, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Germany sent registered letters to the government stating clearly that they had no political objectives but that they were determined to obey God as ruler. At the same time, congregations of Witnesses worldwide sent cablegrams in support of their Christian brothers in Germany.
On that same day, October 7, 1934, in the office of Dr. Wilhelm Frick, in Berlin, Adolf Hitler with clenched fists declared regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses: “This brood will be exterminated in Germany!” It was no idle threat. Widespread arrests occurred. According to a confidential notification of the Prussian Secret State Police dated June 24, 1936, a “special Gestapo Command” was formed to fight against the Witnesses. After extensive preparation the Gestapo launched their campaign to capture all of Jehovah’s Witnesses and everyone suspected of being a Witness. During that offensive the entire police net was involved, leaving criminal elements unmolested.
Reports indicate that eventually some 6,262 German Witnesses were arrested. Karl Wittig, a former German government officer who was himself detained in several concentration camps, later wrote: “No other group of prisoners . . . was exposed to the sadism of the SS-soldiery in such a fashion as the Bible Students were. It was a sadism marked by an unending chain of physical and mental tortures, the likes of which no language in the world can express.”
What was the result? In a book published in 1982, Christine King concludes: “Only against the Witnesses [in contrast to other religious groups] was the government unsuccessful.” Hitler had vowed to exterminate them, and hundreds were killed. Nevertheless, Dr. King notes: “The work [of preaching about God’s Kingdom] went on and in May 1945 the Jehovah’s Witness movement was still alive, whilst National Socialism was not.” She also points out: “No compromises had been made.” (The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity) Why was Hitler, with his well-equipped army, highly trained police, and numerous extermination camps, unable to carry out his threat to destroy this relatively small and unarmed group of what the world views as ordinary people? Why have other nations been unable to put a stop to their activity? Why is it that, not merely a few isolated individuals, but Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole have remained firm in the face of brutal persecution?
The answer lies in some wise advice given by Gamaliel, a Law teacher, to fellow members of the Jewish Sanhedrin when they were dealing with a similar case involving the apostles of Jesus Christ. He said: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; (because, if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them;) otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:38, 39.
Thus the historical facts show that the seemingly impossible task assigned by Jesus to his followers to perform in the face of apparently overwhelming odds is being accomplished not by human power but by God’s spirit. As Jesus himself said in prayer to God: “Father, all things are possible to you.”—Mark 14:36.
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“‘By my spirit,’ Jehovah of armies has said”
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What fortified them to continue preaching in spite of ridicule and violent persecution?
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Evidence of angelic direction
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‘The Lord can raise up witnesses in any land’
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A united people who have proved firm in faith in the face of apparently overwhelming odds