Bible Truth Brought Me Freedom from Fear of Hell
As told by Paul Hammer
LIFE began for me in Trondheim, Norway, on May 3, 1879. As my parents were members of the state church of Norway, I was raised a Lutheran. From early childhood the doctrine of a burning hell was deeply embedded in my mind. I was taught that I had an immortal soul and at death would go either to heaven or to a fiery hell. Since I did not feel that I was good enough to go to heaven, I worried a great deal about going to a place of hellfire. I was truly held in bondage by this teaching.
In my search for freedom and peace of mind I decided to emigrate to the United States, which I did in 1901. I felt that by selling my property and leaving Norway I would no longer be in bondage. But in America I found myself still in bondage to fear of a burning hell even as I had been in Norway. So I continued my search for the truth and freedom, although with little hope of finding it.
I took out a homestead in North Dakota, and, in my search for Bible truth, for years on and off I attended a Lutheran religious school. In want of something better, I kept attending, although often finding the instruction disappointing. I stopped attending this school in 1918 when I came in touch with the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were known. I obtained the seven volumes of the Studies in the Scriptures and also subscribed for The Watch Tower.
On November 11, 1918, I received my questionnaire from the United States Army and now had something else to worry about, for I was wholly opposed to killing my fellowman. Happily for me, the war ended that very day. Then something happened that helped me to break free from religious bondage. The League of Nations was formed, and the churches hailed this as the hope of the world. When the pastor of the local Lutheran church began preaching in favor of the League and praying for it, I quit his church.
I now looked up the Bible Students, and we talked until two o’clock in the morning. I kept insisting that they had to do something to help change world conditions. However, they showed me from the Bible that men cannot remedy these conditions but that we must wait upon Jehovah God. After much studying and praying, I took my stand for Jehovah and his kingdom as one of his sons of freedom. Now I was free and had something to live for. Now there was something I could do. In March 1919, at Fargo, North Dakota, I symbolized my dedication to do Jehovah’s will by baptism and with the heavenly hope in view.
Among the promises especially precious to me from that time on were those found at Ephesians 2:4-7: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with the Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses—by undeserved kindness you have been saved—and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus, that in the coming systems of things there might be demonstrated the surpassing riches of his undeserved kindness in his graciousness toward us in union with Christ Jesus.”
With this hope in view I now felt I could heed the counsel given at Zephaniah 3:8: “‘Keep yourselves in expectation of me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘till the day of my rising up to the booty.’” I was now willing to wait upon Jehovah until he would straighten out earth’s affairs. What a privilege and joy it was to understand Jehovah’s purposes! At last I was free from bondage to Satan and his false religious teachings!
As I continued studying and associating with the Bible Students I felt that I should be doing more to help others enjoy the freedom that now was mine. In 1925 a notice appeared in The Watch Tower asking for more workers at the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, known also as Bethel. I thanked Jehovah for answering my prayers and applied for service there. I was called in the summer of 1925.
ENJOYING INCREASED FREEDOM
Service at Bethel marked a new era of freedom for me. No longer did I need to give concern about food and lodging but could devote my whole time and attention to Jehovah’s service. My first assignment was that of being a janitor. I felt about this privilege as did the psalmist who wrote: “I have chosen to stand at the threshold in the house of my God rather than to move around in the tents of wickedness.” What a joy was mine to be serving at the headquarters of Jehovah’s organization on earth!—Ps. 84:10.
In 1929 Brother Rutherford, the president of the Watch Tower Society, asked me to serve on a farm of thirty-six acres on Staten Island. This was also the home of the Society’s radio station WBBR. After working there a few years, I again served as janitor at Bethel until 1936, when I was assigned to the Kingdom Farm at South Lansing, New York, near Ithaca, to care for the hogs and chickens. The Society had bought it the year before, and it consisted of many hundreds of acres. As the Brooklyn Bethel family grew, I was kept busy just looking after the hogs. I took a course in animal breeding so as to be able to care for my job better. Weekends we shared in the field ministry the same as other Christian witnesses of Jehovah, helping to set others free from bondage to false religious teachings.
It was an exciting day for us farmers when the president of the Watch Tower Society, now N. H. Knorr, announced that, beginning February 1943, Kingdom Farm would be the location of the Gilead missionary school and that we would be privileged to work with the students and they with us. This proved to be a real blessing to both the farm family and the students. In 1949 I interrupted my farm duties for some weeks to visit my friends and relatives in Trondheim, Norway, and to whom I gave a thorough witness about God’s kingdom; the trip was made possible through an unexpected inheritance. In 1955 it was my privilege to attend the European assemblies, at which time I again visited my friends and relatives in Trondheim, Norway, giving them a witness and leaving Bible literature with them.
About five years later the Gilead School was transferred to the Brooklyn headquarters. For a number of years we then had the Kingdom Ministry School with us, a school that trained overseers of congregations. A year ago part of the Kingdom Farm was sold and so most of the farmers were transferred to the Watchtower Farm, about ninety miles out of New York city. And a few of us were transferred to the Brooklyn headquarters. Thus, after thirty years at Kingdom Farm, I am back at Brooklyn Bethel. In 1965 I suffered a heart attack but recently my health has greatly improved so that at ninety years of age I am still able to spend two hours each forenoon and two hours each afternoon doing clerical work.
Now as I look back over forty-four years of Bethel service, I daily thank Jehovah for his goodness and feel like the psalmist David, that goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Jehovah’s house to the length of days.—Ps. 23:6.