Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 3—Expanding the Organization
BECAUSE of continuing expansion of its work, legal incorporation of the Society established in 1881 became necessary. After proper application, finally on December 13, 1884, Judge F. H. Collier of the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, granted a legal charter that was duly recorded December 15, 1884, thus giving the Society legal life.* Its original corporate name, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, was changed in 1896, by court-sanctioned amendment, to its present name, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The Society’s general purpose is stated in its charter’s Article II:
“The purpose for which the corporation is formed is, the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and by the use of all other lawful means which its Board of Directors, duly constituted, shall deem expedient for the furtherance of the purpose stated.”
The charter provided for a board of seven directors, three to serve as officers. The original officers were President, C. T. Russell; Vice-President, William I. Mann; Secretary and Treasurer, (Mrs. C. T.) Maria F. Russell.*
While the Society had been circulating a bound book entitled “Day Dawn,” written by an early associate, J. H. Paton, it was decided for Russell to become writer of a new book to be called “Millennial Dawn,” which after many difficulties appeared in 1886 as Volume 1 of a promised series. Later this became known, instead, as Volume 1 of “Studies in the Scriptures” as well as “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” More than six million copies were distributed over a forty-year period. It covered more clearly subjects previously explained in Food for Thinking Christians and in Tabernacle Teachings (later called “Tabernacle Shadows”).* Its sixteen chapters (352 pages) included “Our Lord’s Return,” “Ransom and Restitution,” “Plan of the Ages,” and “The Kingdom of God.” Chapter 15, “The Day of Jehovah,” amazingly foreshowed the great preaching work now being done.
“The ‘Day of Jehovah’ is the name of that period of time in which God’s kingdom, under Christ, is to be gradually ‘set up’ . . . while the kingdoms of this world are passing away and Satan’s power and influence over men are being bound. It is everywhere described as a dark day of intense trouble and distress and perplexity upon mankind. . . . That some of the saints will still be in the flesh during at least a part of this burning time seems possible. Their position in it, however, will differ from that of others, not so much in that they will be miraculously preserved (though it is distinctly promised that their bread and water shall be sure), but in the fact that, being instructed from God’s Word, they will not feel the same anxiety and hopeless dread that will overspread the world. . . . The troubles of this ‘Day of Jehovah’ will give opportunity for preaching the good tidings of coming good, such as is seldom afforded, and blessed are they who will follow the footsteps of the Master, and be the good Samaritans binding up the wounds and pouring in the oil and wine of comfort and cheer.”*
By end of the ‘80’s they had outgrown the quarters at 151 Robinson Street (earlier designated as 44, and then 40, Federal Street), Allegheny, Pennsylvania.* They decided to build, and in 1889 they moved into their own large, handsome four-story brick structure costing $34,000, located at 58 and 60 (later renumbered as 610-614) Arch Street, Allegheny (North Side, Pittsburgh), containing quarters for a small “Bible House family,” printing works, shipping rooms, an assembly place for about 200, an office, an editorial department and a store front. They named it “Bible House.”* Years later, the Society’s board of directors accepted the donation of title to this plant, the board valuing the building’s net equity and all of its equipment at $164,033.65.*
By 1890 there were about 400 active associates of the Society. The only report available shows the placement of 841,095 tracts, 395,000 extra copies of the Watch Tower magazine, and 85,000 Millennial Dawn bound books between 1886 and 1891.*
Incidentally, at Pittsburgh in 1954 the Society completed a building at 4100 Bigelow Boulevard that now serves both as the legally registered office of the Pennsylvania corporation (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) and as a Kingdom Hall.*
STANDING IN DEFENSE OF TRUTH (1890-1908)
After the Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s witnesses had surprisingly survived its childhood struggle of early beginnings, the old-time apostate religious organizations began to blink their eyes, ‘for look! this “voice of millennialism” did not die out in its birth throes like all the others. Why the audacity of them—these “Russellites,” “Bible Students” or whatever you call them—they are standing as a stripling youth of an organization full of cheek to challenge and expose us “oldsters,” we the ordained, recognized clergy of Christendom! Their voice is become more than just a whisper; for now bold words they speak in many places to the effect that the teachings we give the people are out of harmony with the Bible and that our position as spokesmen for Christ is presumptuous. This has gone far enough; the Watch Tower Society must be crushed now before it grows too big to handle.’
With such sentiments, Protestant elements of Christendom, as a ‘roaring maned lion,’ set out to attack and to destroy the young Samson-like Watch Tower Society. But standing in defense of truth, the modern “Samson” witnesses had the spirit of Jehovah become operative upon them to bring, instead, this attacking “lion” to silence.—Judg. 14:5, 6, NW; RS.
Quietly and surely by means of the Watch Tower magazine, the Society’s many new Bible tracts and Bible study bound books’ circulating in ever-widening fields, the gathering out of Jehovah’s genuine anointed ones from the apostate religious organizations proceeded apace. As such became associated in new, growing congregations, responsibility gradually was put upon them to do some preaching by distributing the printed message; first to perform this in a limited way among friends and, later, publicly with increased boldness. Their faith and their works of preaching kept increasing in proportion to their forsaking Babylonish religious thinking to embrace solid Bible truth. By this time they came to know that there is no “trinity”; that man does not possess an “immortal soul” but that he is a soul and is mortal; that the wages of sin is death, not “eternal torment in hell-fire”; that baptism by immersion is proper; that all who are dedicated to the living God and begotten of him by his holy spirit must be “faithful unto death” as followers of his Son, Christ Jesus, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that during Jesus Christ’s thousand-year or millennial rule the earth will be brought to a state of Edenic paradise, being made fit as perfect man’s everlasting home. Such was the message that was beginning to be circulated in millions of printed pieces, bringing annoying alarm to Christendom’s clergy.
Through the years five other powerfully written bound volumes of the series called “Studies in the Scriptures” were produced by C. T. Russell, each playing its part in gathering more of the anointed Christians into association with the Watch Tower Society. Volume 2, The Time is at Hand, was released in 1889; Volume 3, Thy Kingdom Come, in 1891; Volume 4, The Battle of Armageddon (originally called “The Day of Vengeance”), in 1897; Volume 5, At-one-ment Between God and Man, in 1899; and finally Volume 6, The New Creation, in 1904. A seventh volume the author had promised but did not survive to write it.
Particularly from the early 1880’s the Society’s publications had been circulating in Europe where small groups of Bible students were being gathered together. So in 1891 Russell as the Society’s president made his first trip abroad to stimulate and expand the interest in countries outside the United States and Canada. Two months were set aside for this missionary tour. From New York city Russell’s party sailed for Belfast, Ireland. From there, after a meeting with friends, they went on to visit other groups and historic places in Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh; then to Copenhagen, Denmark; Germany’s Berlin and Leipzig; Vienna, Austria; Kischenev in Russia; Constantinople, Turkey; Athens, Greece; Jerusalem in Palestine; Egypt’s Cairo and the pyramids; Rome, Italy; Berne, Switzerland; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Holland; and then to London and Liverpool, at each of which Russell spoke to 150 before returning to New York. Of this tour he reports:
“We saw no opening for the truth in Russia . . . nothing to encourage us to hope for any harvest in Italy or Turkey or Austria or Germany. . . . The Italians have been so long under the baneful influence of the Papacy that they, like the French, are rapidly turning to open infidelity . . . But Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and especially England, Ireland and Scotland are fields ready and waiting to be harvested.”*
At London a publications depot was set up following Russell’s visit; and then in 1900 the Society’s first branch office was established there at 131 Gipsy Lane, Forest Gate, East London.*
Also after this foreign trip arrangements were made to begin publishing various books and pamphlets in German, French, Swedish, Dano-Norwegian, Polish, Greek, and later in Italian. Of interest, too, it is that with its issue of January 1, 1892, the Watch Tower began (and for many years, until 1927,* regularly continued) to publish in each issue the “International Sunday School Lessons” whereby a short commentary study was made of the Protestant-denominational chosen “golden text” for each Sunday’s scheduled lesson.
“Suggestive thoughts designed to assist those of our readers who attend Bible classes, where these lessons are used; that they may be enabled to lead others into the fulness of the Gospel.”*
Now it became apparent that there was a need to hold conventions in various parts of the country other than at Pittsburgh with the annual Memorial celebration, as had been the practice of several years. So in 1893 a convention was arranged for Chicago, August 20-24, where the Columbian Exposition (world’s fair) was being held that summer. Those traveling to Chicago for that assembly thus were enabled to obtain special rail fare rates.
“The number in attendance was about 360 . . . Following [the morning prayer meeting each day] came a discourse of about an hour and a half, then an adjournment for dinner, after which the afternoon, from 2 until 5, was devoted to the public answering of questions. The last day was devoted to the interest of the colporteur work; and on the day after the close of the Convention, some of the experienced colporteurs [now called pioneers] remained with some of the less successful and the beginners, and held a school of colporteuring—giving instructions, pointing out good and bad methods, manners and expressions . . . [About 50 colporteurs attended.] The Calvary Baptist Church of Chicago very kindly granted us the use of their baptistry; and, in all, seventy symbolized their baptism into Christ’s death by immersion into water. The proportion of brethren and sisters was about equal, and their ages ranged from 17 to 70 years.”*
Many letters kept coming to the Society’s head office showing the heart reaction of those being called to associate as Jehovah’s anointed preachers of good news. Following is an interesting one of 1894, typical of many letters still being received by the Society to this day from persons of good will toward Jehovah:
“Gentlemen: Enclosed herewith please and exchange on New York for the sum of $6.00 for which please send me Zion’s Watch Tower [magazine] one year and copies of Millennial Dawn. By way of explanation for ordering this amount of books, I desire to say that, about two months ago, two young ladies [Watch Tower pioneers] came into my [law] office selling those books. I was very busy when they presented their card; and, seeing that they were ladies selling books, I bought the three volumes, thinking that by so doing I was helping them out. I have since concluded that these ladies brought to me ‘glad tidings of great joy.’ I took the books home, and thought little of them, until a few weeks ago, when I had some spare time, I began reading the first volume, and it was so very interesting that I could not stop. The result is, my dear wife and myself have read these books with the keenest interest, and we consider it a God-send and a great blessing that we have had the opportunity of coming in contact with them. They are indeed a ‘helping hand’ to the study of the Bible. The great truths revealed in the study of this series have simply reversed our earthly aspirations; and realizing to some extent, at least, the great opportunity for doing something for Christ, we intend to take advantage of this opportunity in distributing these books, first, among our nearest relatives and friends, and then among the poor who desire to read them and are unable to purchase; and for that reason we desire these extra copies. Yours, etc.”*
This letter was signed by lawyer J. F. Rutherford, who twelve years later dedicated himself to God and entered the full-time service at the Pittsburgh headquarters or “Bible House” as the Society’s legal adviser, only still later, in 1917, to become the Society’s second president upon the death of Russell.
(To be continued)
Watch Tower, Jan. 1885, p. 1.
Charter, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, pp. 1-3.
Harvest Siftings, 1894. pp. 107, 114, 115; W July 1886, p. 1; Aug. 1886, p. 1.
The Divine Plan of the Ages, pp. 307. 338, 342; W Aug. 15, 1911, pp. 320, 329.
W Dec. 1884, p. 1; Mar. 1887, p. 1.
W Jan. 1890, p. 1; Sept. 1, 1900, pp. 260, 272 (picture).
Originally this property was legally held by the Tower Publishing Company, a private concern personally managed by C. T. Russell. In April, 1898, the ownership of this plant and real estate was transferred to the legal corporation, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. W Apr. 15, 1898, p. 114; W Dec. 15, 1898, p. 369.
W Jan. 1, 1892, pp. 9. 10.
1954 Yearbook, p. 275; W Dec. 15, 1954, pp. 745-747 (picture); 1955 Yearbook, p. 275.
W Nov. 1891, p. 148; W July 1891, p. 95.
W May 15, 1900, p. 146.
W Nov. 15, 1927, pp. 338, 347; with which compare W Dec. 1, 1927, p. 354, ¶1.
W Jan. 1, 1892, p. 13.
W Sept. 1 and 15, 1893, p. 280.
W Apr. 15, 1894, p. 127.