Working in the “Field”—Before the Harvest
THE disciples of the Great Teacher were puzzled. Jesus had just related a brief story about wheat and weeds. It was one of a number of parables that he spoke that day. When he was finished, most in his audience left. But his followers knew that there must be a particular meaning to his parables—especially the one about the wheat and the weeds. They knew that Jesus was not just an interesting storyteller.
Matthew reports that they asked: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” In response, Jesus interpreted the parable, foretelling a great apostasy that would develop among his professed disciples. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-38, 43) This did occur, and apostasy spread quickly after the death of the apostle John. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12) Its effects were so pervasive that the question Jesus posed, as recorded at Luke 18:8, seemed very appropriate: “When the Son of Man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?”
Jesus’ arrival would mark the beginning of “the harvest” of wheatlike Christians. That would be a mark of the ‘conclusion of the system of things,’ which began in 1914. So it should not surprise us that there were stirrings of interest in Bible truth in the period leading up to the onset of the harvest.—Matthew 13:39.
An examination of the historical record makes it evident that especially from the 15th century onward, minds were being stirred, even among the masses in Christendom who were like the “weeds,” or imitation Christians. As the Bible became freely available and Bible concordances were prepared, honesthearted individuals started searching the Scriptures carefully.
The Light Brightens
Among such men at the turn of the 19th century was Henry Grew (1781-1862), from Birmingham, England. At the age of 13, he sailed with his family across the Atlantic to the United States, arriving on July 8, 1795. They settled in Providence, Rhode Island. His parents instilled in him a love for the Bible. In 1807, at age 25, Grew was invited to serve as pastor of the Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut.
He took his teaching responsibilities seriously and tried to assist those in his care to live in harmony with the Scriptures. However, he believed in keeping the congregation clean from any person who willingly practiced sin. At times, he, along with other responsible men in the church, had to expel (disfellowship) those who committed fornication or engaged in other unclean practices.
There were other problems in the church that disturbed him. They had men who were not church members handling the business affairs of the church and leading the singing at the services. These men could also vote on matters of concern to the congregation and thereby have some control of its affairs. Based on the principle of separateness from the world, Grew very strongly believed that only faithful men should perform these functions. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; James 1:27) In his view, to have unbelievers sing songs of praise to God was blasphemy. Because of this stand, in 1811, Henry Grew was rejected by the church. Other members with like views separated from the church at the same time.
Separating From Christendom
This group, including Henry Grew, started a study of the Bible with the aim of conforming their lives and activities to its counsel. Their studies rapidly led them to a greater understanding of Bible truth and caused them to expose the errors of Christendom. For example, in 1824, Grew wrote a well-reasoned refutation of the Trinity. Note the logic in this passage from his writings: “‘Of that day, and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the FATHER.’ [Mark 13:32] Observe here the gradation in the scale of being. Man, Angels, Son, Father. . . . Our Lord teaches us that the Father only knew of that day. But this is not true, if, as some suppose, the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are three persons in one God; for, according to this [teaching, the Trinity doctrine,] the . . . Son knew it equally with the Father.”
Grew exposed the hypocrisy of clergymen and military commanders who made a pretense of service to Christ. In 1828 he declared: “Can we conceive of a greater incongruity, than for a Christian to go from his closet, where he has been praying for his enemies, and command his troops to plunge the weapons of death with fiend like fury, into the hearts of those very enemies? In the one case, he happily resembles his dying Master; but whom does he resemble in the other? Jesus prayed for his murderers. Christians murder those for whom they pray.”
Even more forcefully, Grew wrote: “When shall we believe the Almighty who assures us that he is ‘not mocked?’ When shall we understand the nature, the genius, of that holy religion which requires us to abstain from even the ‘appearance of evil?’ . . . Is it not a libel on the Son of the blessed, to suppose that his religion requires a man to act like an angel in one relation, and allows him to act like a demon in another?”
Eternal Life Not Inherent
During those years before radio and television, a popular way to express one’s viewpoint was to write and distribute pamphlets. About 1835, Grew penned an important pamphlet that exposed the teachings of the immortality of the soul and hellfire as unscriptural. He felt that these doctrines blasphemed God.
This pamphlet was to have far-reaching effects. In 1837, 40-year-old George Storrs found a copy on a train. Storrs was a native of Lebanon, New Hampshire, residing by this time in Utica, New York.
He was a highly respected minister in the Methodist-Episcopal Church. Upon reading the pamphlet, he was impressed that such a strong argument could be made against these basic teachings of Christendom, which he had never before doubted. He did not know who the author was, and it was not until some years later, at least by 1844, that he met Henry Grew while both were residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, Storrs studied the matter on his own for three years, speaking only with other ministers about it.
Finally, since no one could refute the things he was learning, George Storrs decided that he could not be faithful to God if he remained in the Methodist Church. He resigned in 1840 and moved to Albany, New York.
In the early spring of 1842, Storrs gave a series of six lectures in six weeks on the subject “An Inquiry—Are the Wicked Immortal?” The interest was so great that he revised it for publication, and over the next 40 years, it reached a circulation of 200,000 in the United States and Great Britain. Storrs and Grew collaborated in debates against the immortal soul doctrine. Grew continued zealously preaching until his death on August 8, 1862, in Philadelphia.
Shortly after Storrs presented the six lectures just mentioned, he became interested in the preaching of William Miller, who was expecting the visible return of Christ in 1843. For about two years, Storrs was actively involved in preaching this message throughout the northeastern United States. After 1844, he would no longer go along with setting any date for Christ’s return, yet he did not object if others wanted to investigate chronology. Storrs believed that Christ’s return was near and that it was important for Christians to keep awake and spiritually alert, ready for the day of inspection. But he parted company with Miller’s group because they accepted unscriptural doctrines, such as the immortality of the soul, the burning of the world, and the absence of any hope for everlasting life for those who die in ignorance.
To What Would the Love of God Lead?
Storrs was repelled by the Adventist view that God would resurrect wicked people for the sole purpose of putting them to death again. He could see no evidence in the Scriptures for such a pointless and vengeful act on God’s part. Storrs and his associates went to the other extreme and concluded that the wicked would not be resurrected at all. Though they had difficulty explaining certain scriptures that referred to the resurrection of the unrighteous, their conclusion seemed to them to be more in harmony with God’s love. A further step in the understanding of God’s purpose was soon to come.
In 1870, Storrs became very sick and could not work for some months. During this time, he was able to reexamine all that he had learned throughout his 74 years. He concluded that he had missed a vital part of God’s purpose toward mankind as indicated in the Abrahamic covenant—that ‘all the families of the earth would bless themselves because Abraham listened to God’s voice.’—Genesis 22:18; Acts 3:25.
This brought a new thought to his mind. If “all the families” were to be blessed, would not all have to hear the good news? How would they hear it? Were not millions upon millions already dead? On further examination of the Scriptures, he came to the conclusion that there were two classes of dead “wicked” individuals: those who had conclusively rejected the love of God and those who had died in ignorance.
The latter, Storrs concluded, would have to be raised from the dead to give them a chance to benefit from the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Those who accepted it would live forever on earth. Those who rejected it would be destroyed. Yes, Storrs believed that no one would be raised by God without having hope before him. Eventually, no one would be dead for the sin of Adam except Adam! But what about those living during the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? Storrs finally came to see that a global preaching campaign would have to be undertaken to reach them. He had not the slightest idea how such a thing could be done, but in faith he wrote: “Yet too many, if they cannot see just how a thing is to be done reject it, as if it were impossible for God to do it because they cannot see the process.”
George Storrs died in December 1879, at his home in Brooklyn, New York, just a few blocks from what would later become the focal point of the global preaching campaign that he had so eagerly anticipated.
Further Light Needed
Did such men as Henry Grew and George Storrs understand the truth as clearly as we do today? No. They were aware of their struggle, as Storrs stated in 1847: “We should do well to remember that we have but just emerged from the dark ages of the church; and it would not be at all strange if we should find some ‘Babylonish garments’ still worn by us for truth.” Grew, for example, appreciated the ransom provided by Jesus, but he did not understand that it was a “corresponding ransom,” that is, the perfect human life of Jesus given in exchange for the lost perfect human life of Adam. (1 Timothy 2:6) Henry Grew also erroneously believed that Jesus would return and rule visibly on earth. However, Grew did have concern for the sanctification of Jehovah’s name, a subject that had been of interest to very few people since the second century C.E.
George Storrs likewise did not have a correct understanding of some important points. He was able to see falsehoods promoted by the clergy, but sometimes he went to the opposite extreme. For example, apparently overreacting to the orthodox clergy’s view of Satan, Storrs rejected the idea of the Devil as an actual person. He rejected the Trinity; yet, he was uncertain until shortly before his death as to whether the holy spirit was a person. While George Storrs expected that Christ’s return would originally be invisible, he thought that eventually there would be a visible appearing. Nonetheless, it seems that both men were honesthearted and sincere, and they came far closer to the truth than most.
The “field” that Jesus described in the parable of the wheat and the weeds was not quite ready to be harvested. (Matthew 13:38) Grew, Storrs, and others were working in the “field” in preparation for the harvest.
Charles Taze Russell, who started publishing this magazine in 1879, wrote concerning his early years: “The Lord gave us many helps in the study of His word, among whom stood prominently, our dearly beloved and aged brother, George Storrs, who, both by word and pen gave us much assistance; but we ever sought not to be followers of men, however good and wise, but ‘Followers of God as dear children.’” Yes, sincere Bible students could benefit from the efforts of men like Grew and Storrs, but it still was vital to examine God’s Word, the Bible, as the real source of the truth.—John 17:17.
[Box/Picture on page 26]
What Henry Grew Believed
Jehovah’s name has been reproached, and it needs to be sanctified.
The Trinity, immortality of the soul, and hellfire are fraudulent doctrines.
The Christian congregation must be separate from the world.
Christians should have no part in wars of the nations.
Christians are not under a Saturday or Sunday Sabbath law.
Christians should not belong to secret societies, such as the Freemasons.
There are to be no clergy and laity classes among Christians.
Religious titles are from the antichrist.
All congregations are to have a body of elders.
Elders must be holy in all their conduct, above reproach.
All Christians must preach the good news.
There will be people living forever in Paradise on earth.
Christian song should be praises to Jehovah and Christ.
Photo: Collection of The New-York Historical Society/69288
[Box/Picture on page 28]
What George Storrs Believed
Jesus paid his life as the ransom price for mankind.
The preaching of the good news has not yet been done (in 1871).
Because of that, the end could not be near at that time (in 1871). There would have to be a future age in which the preaching would be done.
There will be people who inherit everlasting life on earth.
There is to be a resurrection of all who died in ignorance. Those accepting the ransom sacrifice of Christ will receive eternal life on earth. Those rejecting it will be destroyed.
Immortality of the soul and hellfire are false doctrines that dishonor God.
The Lord’s Evening Meal is an annual observance on Nisan 14.
Photo: SIX SERMONS, by George Storrs (1855)
[Pictures on page 29]
In 1909, C. T. Russell, editor of “Zion’s Watch Tower,” moved to Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.