“Get out of her, my people.”—REV. 18:4.
1. On what basis could God’s people hope to be liberated from Babylon the Great, and what questions will we examine?
IN THE preceding article, we learned how faithful Christians found themselves in a form of Babylonian captivity. The good news, though, is that they would not remain in that condition indefinitely. God’s command “Get out of her, my people” would be meaningless if no one could ever escape the influence of the world empire of false religion. (Read Revelation 18:4.) We are eager to learn when God’s people were completely freed from Babylon’s clutches! But first, we must answer the following questions: What stand regarding Babylon the Great did the Bible Students take prior to 1914? How active were our brothers in the preaching work during World War I? Is there a connection between their need for correction and discipline during that time and their being held in Babylonian captivity?
“THE FALL OF BABYLON”
2. What position did the early Bible Students take regarding false religion as they understood it?
2 In the decades leading up to World War I, Charles Taze Russell and his associates realized that the organizations of Christendom were not teaching Bible truth. Accordingly, they resolved to have nothing to do with false religion as they understood it. As early as November of 1879, Zion’s Watch Tower straightforwardly set out their Scriptural position by stating: “Every church claiming to be a chaste virgin espoused to Christ, but in reality united to and supported by the world (beast) we must condemn as being in scripture language a harlot church,” a reference to Babylon the Great.—Read Revelation 17:1, 2.
3. What decisive action did the Bible Students take, showing that they understood the need to separate themselves from false religion? (See opening picture.)
3 God-fearing men and women knew what they must do. They could not expect to receive God’s blessing if they continued to support false religious organizations. Consequently, many Bible Students prepared letters of withdrawal from their churches. In some cases, they read the letters publicly at church meetings. Where a public reading was forbidden, some sent copies to every member of the church. They wanted no further dealings with false religion! In another era, such a bold move would have cost them dearly. But in many countries in the late 1800’s, the church was beginning to lose the backing of the State. Without fear of reprisals in such countries, citizens were free to discuss religious matters and to disagree openly with the established churches.
4. During World War I, what was the relationship between God’s people and Babylon the Great?
4 The Bible Students understood that it was not enough for them to inform relatives, close friends, and church members of their stand on false religion. The whole world needed to see Babylon the Great for what it is—a religious prostitute! Accordingly, between December 1917 and early 1918, the few thousand Bible Students zealously distributed 10,000,000 copies of a tract featuring the subject “The Fall of Babylon”—a hard-hitting indictment of Christendom. As you can imagine, the clergy were furious; but undeterred, the Bible Students kept right on with this important work. They were determined to obey “God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) What can we conclude? That far from becoming enslaved to Babylon the Great during the war, these Christian men and women were breaking free from its influence and were helping others to do so.
ZEALOUS ACTIVITY DURING WORLD WAR I
5. What testimony is there that the brothers were very zealous during World War I?
5 In years gone by, we believed that Jehovah became displeased with his people because they did not have a zealous share in the preaching work during World War I. We concluded that for this reason, Jehovah allowed Babylon the Great to take them captive for a short time. However, faithful brothers and sisters who served God during the 1914-1918 period later made it clear that as a whole the Lord’s people did everything they could to keep the preaching work going. There is strong evidence to support this testimony. A more accurate understanding of our theocratic history has led to a clearer comprehension of certain events recorded in the Bible.
6, 7. (a) What challenges did the Bible Students need to overcome during World War I? (b) Give examples illustrating the zeal of the Bible Students.
6 In actual fact, the Bible Students who were on hand during World War I (1914-1918) gave a tremendous witness during that time. It was not easy for them to do so, for several reasons. We will consider two of them. First of all, the main work being done in those days involved the distribution of Bible literature. When the book The Finished Mystery was banned by the secular authorities in early 1918, preaching became difficult for many of the brothers. They had not yet learned to preach using the Bible alone, and they had been counting on The Finished Mystery to “do the talking” for them. A second factor involved the devastating outbreak of the Spanish Influenza in 1918. The pervasiveness of that dreadful plague made it difficult for publishers to move about freely. In spite of these and other challenges, however, the Bible Students as a whole did their best to keep the work going.
7 In 1914 alone, the small number of Bible Students presented the “Photo-Drama of Creation” to more than 9,000,000 people. The Drama, as it was called, combined pictures and slides synchronized with sound and traced man’s history from the time of creation to the end of the Millennium. It was an outstanding achievement at the time. Think of it. The number of people who saw that presentation in 1914 alone was greater than the total number of Kingdom publishers active in the world today! Reports further indicate that in 1916 a total of 809,393 attended public meetings in the United States, and in 1918 the number rose to 949,444. Those Bible Students were zealous!
8. How were the spiritual needs of the brothers met during the first world war?
8 During the first world war, no effort was spared to keep providing spiritual food and encouragement to the scattered Bible Students. These provisions gave the brothers the strength to carry on the preaching work. Richard H. Barber, who was active during that time, recalled: “We succeeded in keeping a few traveling overseers going and in keeping The Watch Tower in circulation and having it sent into Canada where it was banned. I had the privilege of mailing pocket-size copies of The Finished Mystery to a number of friends who had lost their copy due to confiscation. Brother Rutherford requested that we arrange conventions in several cities in the western United States and send speakers to try to encourage the friends as much as possible.”
SOME REFINING NEEDED
9. (a) Why did God’s people need correction and discipline between 1914 and 1919? (b) Of what was the need for discipline not an indication?
9 Not everything the Bible Students did during the period between 1914 and 1919 was in harmony with Scriptural principles. Although they were sincere, the brothers did not always have a proper view of subjection to the secular governments. (Rom. 13:1) Therefore, as a group, they were not always neutral with regard to the war effort. For example, when the president of the United States decreed that May 30, 1918, would be set aside as a day of prayer for peace, The Watch Tower urged the Bible Students to join in the observance. Some brothers purchased bonds to provide financial assistance to the war effort, and a few even went into the trenches with guns and bayonets. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the Bible Students were first taken into captivity to Babylon the Great because they needed correction and discipline. On the contrary, they understood their obligation to separate themselves from false religion, and during World War I, the break with that world empire was almost complete.—Read Luke 12:47, 48.
10. What firm stand did the Bible Students take with regard to the sacredness of life?
10 While they did not understand every aspect of Christian neutrality as clearly as we do today, the Bible Students did know one thing: The Bible forbids the taking of human life. So even those few brothers who took up arms and entered the trenches during World War I resolutely refused to use those arms to kill another human. Some who refused to kill were sent to the front lines, with the expectation that they would lose their life.
11. How did the secular authorities react to the Bible Students’ Scriptural stand on armed conflict?
11 The Devil was clearly angry about the stand the brothers were taking with regard to the war, as imperfect as that stand was. As a result, he framed “trouble in the name of the law.” (Ps. 94:20) Major-General James Franklin Bell of the U.S. Army revealed in a conversation with Brothers J. F. Rutherford and W. E. Van Amburgh that the U.S. Department of Justice had tried to introduce a bill in Congress that would allow the death sentence to be imposed on individuals who refused to take up arms in the war. He meant the Bible Students in particular. In the heat of anger, General Bell said to Brother Rutherford: “That bill did not pass because [U.S. President] Wilson prevented it; but we know how to get you, and we are going to do it!”
12, 13. (a) Why were eight responsible brothers sentenced to long prison terms? (b) Did incarceration break the brothers’ determination to obey Jehovah? Explain.
12 The authorities made good on that threat. As representatives of the Watch Tower Society, Brothers Rutherford, Van Amburgh, and six others were arrested. When passing sentence, the judge in the case declared: “The religious propaganda in which these men are engaged is more harmful than a division of German soldiers . . . They have not only called in question the law officers of the Government and the army intelligence bureau but have denounced all the ministers of all the churches. Their punishment should be severe.” (Faith on the March, by A. H. Macmillan, p. 99) It was. The eight Bible Students were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. When the war ended, however, they were released and the charges against them were dropped.
13 Even while in prison, the eight men held steadfastly to the Scriptures as they understood them. In a petition for clemency addressed to the president of the United States, they wrote: “The Lord’s will is as announced in the Scriptures, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and therefore any member of the [International Bible Students] Association so consecrated unto the Lord who would willingly violate his covenant of consecration would forfeit for himself God’s favor, even to his complete destruction. Hence such members could not willingly and conscientiously engage in the taking of the life of human beings.” Bold words those! Clearly, the brothers had no intention of compromising!
FREEDOM AT LAST!
14. Describe from the Scriptures what took place from 1914 to 1919.
14 Malachi 3:1-3 describes the time—from 1914 to early 1919—when the anointed “sons of Levi” would undergo a period of refinement. (Read.) During that time, Jehovah God, “the true Lord,” accompanied by Jesus Christ, “the messenger of the covenant,” came to the spiritual temple to inspect those serving there. After receiving needed discipline, Jehovah’s cleansed people were ready to take up a further assignment of service. In 1919, a “faithful and discreet slave” was appointed to provide spiritual food to the household of faith. (Matt. 24:45) God’s people were now free of the influence of Babylon the Great. Since that time, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, his people have constantly been growing in knowledge of God’s will and in love for their heavenly Father. How grateful they are for his blessing!
15. How should our release from Babylon the Great affect us?
15 How exhilarating it is to have been released from captivity to Babylon the Great! Satan’s effort to eradicate true Christianity from the earth has failed miserably. However, we must not miss the purpose for which Jehovah has granted us this freedom. (2 Cor. 6:1) Multitudes of sincere individuals are still being held captive by false religion. They need to be shown the way out. We can guide them. By all means, then, in imitation of our brothers in the past century, let us do all we can to help them get free!
 (paragraph 14) There are many similarities between the Jewish captivity of 70 years in Babylon and what happened to Christians after the apostasy developed. However, the Jewish captivity does not appear to be a prophetic type of what happened to Christians. For one thing, the length of captivity is different. So we should not try to look for prophetic parallels in every detail of the Jewish captivity as if these should somehow apply to what happened to anointed Christians in the years leading up to 1919.