Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 9—Postwar Revival of the Witnesses
THE appeal of Rutherford and his seven associates was set for hearing and was heard April 14, 1919, by the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals at New York. A month later (May 14, 1919) their erroneous convictions of the preceding summer were reversed.a (Next year, May 5, 1920, the eight men were completely exonerated when, in open court at Brooklyn, on order of the Attorney General, the government’s attorney announced withdrawal of the prosecution.)b The appellate court’s reversal of the unjust convictions was reported on page 1 of the then published Brooklyn Eagle, May 15, 1919:
“Russellite Verdict Reversed by Appeal; ‘Trial Was Unfair.’ Judges Ward, Rogers and Manton of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the New York Federal District today reversed the convictions of the leaders of Russellism, who were found guilty last June before Judge Harland B. Howe of Vermont, sitting in Brooklyn, of conspiring to obstruct the draft, discourage enlistment and foment insurrection and insubordination among the armed forces of the Nation. The decision holds that the attitude of Judge Howe was unfair in his treatment of [three] witnesses. . . . Inasmuch as the decision sustains the legitimacy of the claim of the Russellites that their organization, which forbids members to kill, entitled its members to exemption from active service with the Army, there seems little likelihood that the leaders of the cult will ever again be placed on trial. . . . Judge Martin T. Manton dissented from the majority opinion, which was written by Judge Henry G. Ward.”c
This is Judge Manton, eminent Roman Catholic, who on July 1, 1918, for no assigned reason, refused bail to Rutherford and his associates, thus forcing nine months of unjust incarceration upon them while their appeal was pending. This, too, is Manton whom Vatican City’s pope, Pius XI, later rewarded by creating him a “Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.” Yes, this is Manton the “mighty one” who himself on June 3, 1939, was brought low and sentenced to imprisonment for shamefully misusing his high federal judgeship by accepting bribes of $186,000 for six decisions.d
As soon as the Watch Tower Society’s officers were freed in the spring of 1919 their chief concern was to get the wheels of organization moving again. The witness work of more than four decades had been grounded to a standstill by Satan’s external blows of 1918. Now suddenly for the cleansed survivors of this testing time there was release, freedom from Babylonish bondage. Visions came of an era of intense new activity. Time was at hand for the building of a new earthly organization, a New World society, under the Kingdom of the living God already established in the heavens. At the temporary headquarters in Pittsburgh plans were made for reopening the headquarters at Brooklyn, New York. That was accomplished by October 1, 1919.e New factory premises were secured on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. According to plan, there also was a grand reunion of all the surviving witnesses at a seven-day spiritual festival in Cedar Point, Ohio, September 1 to 7, 1919. It turned out to be the greatest convention ever held by the Society till then, 6,000 attending the general sessions, 200 being baptized and 7,500 being present for the public lecture.f At the convention the publication of a new magazine, The Golden Age, was announced. Its first issue appeared October 1, 1919.g The colporteur (pioneer) service was quickly revived, 150 being in that branch of service in the spring of 1919, and by autumn there were 507 engaged in full-time action in the field. The pilgrim service was reconstituted with 86 special representatives’ being sent out from congregation to congregation to strengthen headquarters contact with them, to gather those scattered due to war persecution and to stimulate new enthusiasm. Truly the stormy years of crisis had been weathered.h Yes, 1919 saw the once dead witness work quickly revived by God’s powerful active force, to become an amazement to the nations.—Rev. 11:11.
Courageously and vigorously Jehovah’s surviving remnant of anointed witnesses took hold of the task of restoring true worship, genuine Christianity, which had been overshadowed by Babylonish false religious thinking from the time the last of Jesus’ apostles died, about A.D. 100. The collective system of Christendom’s apostate clergy, as the “man of lawlessness,” had long kept the peoples in gross darkness. Though Jehovah’s people from the 1870’s to 1918 had gradually changed over much of their basic religious thinking from the corrupt teachings of the Babylonish religion of apostate nominal churches, yet to a great degree they still were held in restraint by tainted bonds of false conceptions and practices inherited from the pagan traditions adopted by Christendom. For example, up to and including their 1918 troubles these witnesses of the Most High God still trusted excessively in so-called “character development,”i indulged in considerable creature worship,j accepted earthly political governments as the “superior authorities” ordained of God (Rom. 13:1, NW), and thus were held in fear of man, particularly civil rulers.k Also they celebrated some pagan holidays, such as Christmas,l they used the symbol of the cross as a sign of Christian devotion,a the name of Jehovah they had in the background, and organizationally they continued to practice the democratic style of local congregational government.b Generally, everyone did what was considered right in his own eyes. The gathering together of the anointed ones under the Watch Tower Society from many parts of the earth in those days resulted in a loose association of Christians longing for still greater restorations.
In 1919 and thereafter all this began to change for a brilliant, divinely blessed future. The anointed witnesses as a loosely united community came to life again after the almost fatal blow from the Gentile governments in 1914-1918, the facts of which were fully examined in our previous part (8) of this history. As a restored Christian community they immediately confessed their sins of compromising, also their taints of false religion. They repented of their former course, expressed a desire to change their ways and prayed for Jehovah’s forgiveness. Organizationally they remembered their sins, such as compromisingly cutting out pages 247-253 of The Finished Mystery, their seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, to please would-be censors,c The Watch Tower encouraging its readers to set aside May 30, 1918, as a day of prayer and supplication as requested by the American Congress on April 2 and as proclaimed by President Wilson May 11,d their tendering of compliments to governments of this world,e and their dabbling in nonreligious enterprises.f As a body they confessed, “We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly.” “Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not Jehovah? he against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto his law.”g (Ps. 106:6; Isa. 42:24, AS) The stirring Watch Tower articles of August 1 and 15, 1919, entitled “Blessed Are the Fearless,” dispelled the grip of the “fear of man” restraining the faithful remnant and they began to go forth as a forgiven people, a cleansed organization, a new nation freed from the Devil’s old-world organization. They rejoiced that now the brief interval of Jehovah’s displeasure was ended, that his anger was turned away from them, and that their service to him in the future would be acceptable.—Isa. 12:1.
Prophetically what do the Scriptures have to foretell about this period of restoration? Previously we have studied how Zion, Jehovah’s universal organization, without organizational pains, violence or troubles, gave birth to, or successfully produced in 1914, the male-child Kingdom of heaven, a new government embodied in Christ Jesus. (Dan. 7:14; Isa. 66:7; Rev. 12:5) However, following this event the prophecies say that Zion travails or ‘is pained’ with respect to the persecutions, troubles and scatterings of her anointed witnesses on earth (1914-1918) to produce in connection with them a “land” and a “nation.” (Isa. 66:8) The “land” produced in the “one day” of Jehovah refers to the restoration of the free position of Jehovah’s worshipers on earth, for building a theocratic New World society, which was thus founded in 1919.h (Isa. 51:16) A “land” or earthly condition or position must have inhabitants, and the first ones to inhabit this new earthly situation, the “Beulah” land, were those of the remnant of anointed ones of “spiritual Israel” comprising the holy “nation” that was restored to true worship in 1919.i (Isa. 62:4) Later, strangers, those of the “other sheep,” were to be gathered into this new theocratic “land” or situation. Thus a spectacular “new earth” crowd of inhabitants is gradually developed amidst a dying corrupt old world.—Isa. 66:20-22.
Following these remarkable births in 1919 of Zion’s new offspring, the “nation” in the “land,” a literal period of 1,260 days is provided by the great “eagle,” Jehovah, for the safe development, spiritual nourishment and strengthening of these new children. (Rev. 12:6, 14, NW; Deut. 32:11, 12; Ex. 19:4) So for three and one-half years up to 1922 Jehovah gave special eaglelike protection to his organization in the new theocratic “land.” This enabled the first arrivals, the remnant of spiritual Israel, to get settled in the new theocratic land, become spiritually fed and built up, and get acclimated to the pleasant conditions of divine favor in it.
In ancient time there was prophetic meaning to the literal restoration of the remnant of faithful Jews in 537 B.C., when they were brought from literal Babylon and restored as righteous inhabitants to the “promised land” of Israel where they again became, pictorially, Jehovah’s “holy nation” under a theocratic system of things, rebuilding the temple of Jehovah’s pure worship.j So, too, from A.D. 1919 the Christian anointed remnant found themselves in “Beulah” land, commencing the work of restoring Jehovah’s true worship.
That which Jehovah’s forgiven people now were to experience was similar to that which the ancient Israelites experienced at the time the theocratic kingdom, first of Saul and then of David, was established over them. No longer could ‘each one be accustomed to do what was right in his own eyes’ as he did in the days before there was a reigning theocratic king. (Judg. 21:25, NW) Now that since 1914 Christ Jesus was ruling as theocratic King of the newborn heavenly kingdom, it meant no longer a loose community of witnesses here on earth. Rather, a new organizational arrangement had to be set in motion that would be wholly theocratic, centralized in and bound closely to the King himself in structure and service. So in 1919 the restoration of the witnesses of Jehovah was not to what they had been enjoying for forty years before their 1917-1919 crisis. Instead, it was restoration to theocratic organization such as existed in the time of the early congregation.
(To be continued)
a Rutherford v. United States, 258 F. 855.
b Watch Tower 1920, p. 162.
c W 1919, p. 162; Consolation, September 6, 1939, pp. 6, 7.
d Consolation, August 9, 1939, pp. 3-6; New York Times, January 21, 1929, November 18, 1946, p. 23, col. 3.
e W 1919, p. 283.
f W 1919, pp. 291-297.
g W 1919, pp. 298, 318.
h W 1919, pp. 371-373.
i W 1916, pp. 155-157; W 1926, pp, 131-137.
j W 1916, pp. 356-370.
k Studies in the Scriptures (1886), Vol. 1, p. 250.
l W 1919, p. 31; W 1946, p. 361.
a W 1906, p. 274.
b W 1913, p. 381.
c W 1918, p. 77.
d W 1918, p. 174.
e W 1918, p. 78.
f W 1900, p. 64; W 1911, p. 178; W 1920, p. 226.
g W 1935, p. 267; W 1952, pp. 725, 726; Light, Book 1, p. 101.
h “New Heavens and a New Earth”, pp. 267, 319.
i W 1925, p. 71.