Part 1—United States of America
Our narrative begins in the mid-nineteenth century. Covered wagons still roll across the open plains, carrying settlers to remote sectors of the American West. Vast herds of bison or buffalo—some twenty million in 1850—yet roam between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges.
The devastating Civil War ravages the land and takes its deadly toll from 1861 to 1865, followed by an era of industrialization. In 1869 the first transcontinental railway comes to completion. During the 1870’s the electric light and the telephone first come on the scene. The electric streetcar facilitates urban travel by the 1880’s, and by the century’s end a few automobiles noisily proclaim their presence.
What the religious climate of this era would be was unpredictable, to say the least. Charles Darwin had espoused the theory of man’s evolution in his 1859 work Origin of Species. As evolution, higher criticism of the Bible, atheism, spiritism and infidelity assailed organized religion, the Roman Catholic Church held the first Vatican Council (1869-1870), thus making an effort to strengthen her weakening position. Various other groups eagerly anticipated the imminent fleshly return of Christ—but in vain.
Yet, “the conclusion of the system of things” was approaching. Surely “wheat”—true Christians—must exist somewhere in God’s earth-wide field under cultivation. But where?
‘A DAY OF SMALL THINGS’
It is about 1870; the place, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. Allegheny, which later became a part of Pittsburgh, is a city of many churches. One evening a young man of eighteen is walking along one of Allegheny’s streets. By his own later admission, he had been “shaken in faith regarding many long-accepted doctrines” and had fallen “a ready prey to the logic of infidelity.” But tonight he is attracted by some singing. He enters a dusty, dingy hall. His object? In his own words, “to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches.”
The young man sat and listened. Jonas Wendell, a Second Adventist, delivered the sermon. “His Scripture exposition was not entirely clear,” our listener later remarked. But it did something. He had to admit: “It was sufficient, under God, to reestablish my wavering faith in the Divine inspiration of the Bible, and to show that the records of the Apostles and the Prophets are indissolubly linked. What I heard sent me to my Bible to study with more zeal and care than ever before.”
The inquisitive young man was Charles Taze Russell. Born in Allegheny on February 16, 1852, he was the second son of Joseph L. and Ann Eliza (Birney) Russell, both of Scottish-Irish descent. Charles’ mother, who had dedicated him to the Lord’s work at birth, died when he was a lad of nine. But at an early age Charles received his first impressions of religion from his Presbyterian parents. Eventually he joined the nearby Congregational Church because of its more liberal views.
As a mere boy of eleven years, Charles entered a business partnership with his father, the youngster himself writing the articles of agreement under which their enterprise operated. At fifteen he was associated with his father in a growing chain of men’s clothing stores. In time, they had stores in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
All along, young Charles was a sincere student of the Scriptures. He wanted to serve God to the best of his ability. In fact, once, when he was twelve years old, his father found him in the family store at two o’clock in the morning, poring over a Bible concordance, heedless of the hour.
Growing older, Russell was spiritually troubled. Especially was he concerned about the doctrines of eternal punishment and predestination. He reasoned: “A God that would use his power to create human beings whom he foreknew and predestinated should be eternally tormented, could be neither wise, just nor loving. His standard would be lower than that of many men.” (1 John 4:8) Nonetheless, young Russell continued to believe in God’s existence. His mind beleaguered by concern over doctrine, he examined the various creeds of Christendom, studied leading Oriental religions—and experienced grave disappointment. Where was truth to be found?
By the time Russell was seventeen, a later associate says that this is the way he reasoned, namely: “There is no use in my trying to find out anything reasonable about the future from any of the creeds or even from the Bible, so I’m just going to forget the whole thing and give all my attention to business. If I make some money I can use that to help suffering humanity, even though I cannot do them any good spiritually.”
It was while young Russell had such thoughts that he stepped into that dingy hall in Allegheny and heard the sermon that ‘reestablished his wavering faith in the Bible’s divine inspiration.’ Approaching several young men of his acquaintance, he told them of his intention to study the Scriptures. Soon this small group—about six in number—began meeting weekly for systematic Bible study. At their regular gatherings during the years 1870 to 1875, the religious thinking of these men underwent profound changes. With the passing of time, Jehovah blessed them with increasing spiritual light and truth.—Ps. 43:3; Prov. 4:18.
“We came to recognize,” wrote Russell, “the difference between our Lord as ‘the man who gave himself,’ and as the Lord who would come again, a spirit being. We saw that spirit-beings can be present, and yet invisible to men. . . . we felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of his coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed his coming Kingdom.”
Earnestly endeavoring to counteract such erroneous teachings, in 1873 twenty-one-year-old C. T. Russell wrote and published at his own expense a booklet entitled “The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return.” Some 50,000 copies were published and it enjoyed a wide distribution.
About January of 1876, Russell received a copy of the religious periodical The Herald of the Morning. From the cover, he identified it with Adventism, but its contents were a surprise. The editor, N. H. Barbour of Rochester, New York, understood that the object of Jesus Christ’s return was not to destroy but to bless all families of the earth and that his coming would be thieflike and not in the flesh, but as a spirit. In fact, from Biblical time-prophecies Barbour thought Christ then was present and that the harvest work of gathering the “wheat” and “tares” (“weeds”) was already due. Russell arranged a meeting with Barbour and, as a result, the Pittsburgh Bible class of about thirty persons became affiliated with Barbour’s slightly larger Rochester, New York, group. From his own funds Russell contributed money to print the then nearly suspended Herald, becoming coeditor of the journal.
At the age of twenty-five, in 1877, Russell began selling out his business interests and went into full-time preaching activity. He then was traveling from city to city delivering Bible discourses at public gatherings, on the streets and in Protestant churches. Because of this work, he became known as “Pastor” Russell. He determined to invest his fortune in the promulgation of the work, devote his life to the cause, prohibit collections at all meetings and depend on unsolicited contributions to continue the work after his own money was exhausted.
In 1877, Barbour and Russell jointly published Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World. This 196-page book combined information about Restitution with Biblical time prophecies. It presented the view that Jesus Christ’s invisible presence and a forty-year period opening with a three-and-a-half-year harvest dated from the autumn of 1874.
Very noteworthy was the striking accuracy with which that book pointed to the end of the Gentile Times, “the appointed times of the nations.” (Luke 21:24) It showed (on pages 83 and 189) that this 2,520-year period, during which Gentile or non-Jewish nations would rule the earth without interference by any kingdom of God, began with the Babylonian overthrow of the kingdom of Judah in the late seventh century B.C.E. and would end in 1914 C.E. Even earlier, however, C. T. Russell wrote an article entitled “Gentile Times: When Do They End?” It was published in the Bible Examiner of October 1876, and therein Russell said: “The seven times will end in A.D. 1914.” He had correctly linked the Gentile Times with the “seven times” mentioned in the book of Daniel. (Dan. 4:16, 23, 25, 32) True to such calculations, 1914 did mark the end of those times and the birth of God’s kingdom in heaven with Christ Jesus as king. Just think of it! Jehovah granted his people that knowledge nearly four decades before those times expired.
All went well for a while. Then came the spring of 1878. Barbour expected that the living saints on earth would then be caught away bodily to be forever with the Lord in heaven. But it did not happen. According to Russell, Barbour “seemed to feel that he must of necessity get up something new to divert attention from the failure of the living saints to be caught away en masse.” He soon did so. “To our painful surprise,” says Russell’s account, “Mr. Barbour soon after wrote an article for the Herald denying the doctrine of the atonement—denying that the death of Christ was the ransom-price of Adam and his race, saying that Christ’s death was no more a settlement of the penalty of man’s sins than would the sticking of a pin through the body of a fly and causing it suffering and death be considered by an earthly parent as a just settlement for misdemeanor in his child.”
In the September issue of the Herald appeared Russell’s article “The Atonement,” upholding the ransom and contradicting Barbour’s error. Until December 1878 the controversy continued in the journal’s pages. “It now became clear to me,” wrote Russell, “that the Lord would no longer have me assist financially, or be in any way identified with, anything which cast an influence in opposition to the fundamental principle of our holy religion.” So, what did C. T. Russell do? He continues: “Therefore, after a most careful though unavailing effort to reclaim the erring, I withdrew entirely from The Herald of the Morning, and from further fellowship with Mr. Barbour.” But this was not enough to show his “continued loyalty to our Lord and Redeemer.” Hence, further action was taken. Writes Russell: “I therefore understood it to be the Lord’s will that I should start another journal, in which the standard of the Cross should be lifted high, the doctrine of the Ransom defended and the Good Tidings of great Joy proclaimed as extensively as possible.”
C. T. Russell took it as the Lord’s leading that he give up traveling and begin publishing a journal. Thus in July 1879 the first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence made its appearance. Now known world wide as The Watchtower, this magazine has always upheld the Biblical doctrine of the ransom. As Russell once wrote: “From the first, it has been a special advocate of the Ransom; and, by the grace of God, we hope it will be so to the end.”
The journal’s beginning was a “day of small things,” as its first issue consisted of only some 6,000 copies. (Zech. 4:10) C. T. Russell, chairman of the Pittsburgh Bible class, was the editor and publisher. Five other mature Bible students served originally as regular contributors to its columns. The magazine was dedicated to Jehovah and to the interests of God’s kingdom. Reliance was placed upon God, as indicated, for instance, when it was said in the second issue: “‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.” Never has the publication been suspended. Instead, its printing has soared to an average each issue of more than 8,500,000 copies by late 1974.
Firm determination to uphold and declare Biblical truth had resulted in divine blessing for those Bible students of the 1870’s. Despite the growth of many religious “weeds” in the worldwide field, God had acted to identify the “wheat” or true Christians. (Matt. 13:25, 37-39) Undeniably Jehovah was calling persons “out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) In 1879 and 1880 C. T. Russell and his associates founded some thirty congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Ohio and Michigan. Russell himself arranged personal visits to each congregation. His program called for one or several Bible meetings with each group.
Those early congregations were called “ecclesias” (from the Greek ek·kle·siʹa, meaning “congregation”) and at times were spoken of as “classes.” All congregation members voted congregationally on certain matters and also elected a board of elders, responsible for directing congregational matters. The ecclesias were linked together by accepting the pattern of activity of the congregation in Pittsburgh, where C. T. Russell and other Watch Tower writers were elders.
Jesus Christ ‘preached release to imprisoned captives.’ (Luke 4:16-21; Isa. 61:1, 2) If honest-hearted ones of the nineteenth century were to gain God-given freedom, religious error had to be exposed. Zion’s Watch Tower was serving that purpose. Yet, something else helped to fill the need—“Bible Students’ Tracts” (also called “Old Theology Quarterly”), written in 1880 and thereafter by Russell and his colleagues. These tracts were provided free for distribution by Watch Tower readers.
C. T. Russell and his associates believed they were in the time of harvest, and they were few in number—only about one hundred strong in 1881. But people needed liberating truth, and by God’s undeserved kindness they were going to receive it. “Wanted 1,000 Preachers” was the striking title of an article in Zion’s Watch Tower of April 1881. To those able to give one half or more of their time exclusively to the Lord’s work, it was suggested: “That you go forth into large or small cities, according to your ability, as Colporteurs or Evangelists, seek to find in every place the earnest Christians, many of whom you will find possessed of a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; to these seek to make known the riches of Our Father’s grace, and the beauties of His word, giving them tracts.” Among other things, these colporteurs (forerunners of today’s pioneer publishers) were to obtain Watch Tower subscriptions. Of course, not all Watch Tower readers could be full-time preachers. Yet, those who could not devote full time were not left out, for they were told: “If you have a half hour, or an hour, or two, or three, you can use it and it will be acceptable with the Lord of the harvest. Who can tell the blessings which may flow from one hour’s service under God’s direction.”
The desired thousand preachers did not then answer the call to action. (During 1885 there were about 300 colporteurs.) But Jehovah’s servants knew that they should preach the good news. Fittingly, Zion’s Watch Tower of July and August 1881 stated: “Are you preaching? We believe that none will be of the little flock except preachers. . . . Yes, we were called to suffer with him and to proclaim the good news now, that in due time we might be glorified and perform the things now preached. We were not called, nor anointed to receive honor and amass wealth, but to spend and be spent, and to preach the good news.”
In that same year—1881—C. T. Russell completed two large pamphlets. One was entitled “Tabernacle Teachings.” The other—Food for Thinking Christians—exposed certain doctrinal errors and explained the divine purpose.
Originally the printing of tracts and Zion’s Watch Tower was done almost entirely by commercial firms. But if literature distribution was to expand, and if the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known) were to receive contributions to carry on the work, some sort of society was required. So, early in 1881, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was established as an unincorporated body with C. T. Russell as its manager. He and others generously contributed some $35,000 to get this printing organization into operation. During 1884 the formerly unincorporated Society was incorporated as Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, Russell serving as its president. Today this religious corporation is known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
“The purpose for which the corporation is formed,” said its charter, “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 dissemination of Bible truths” took a notable step forward with a series of books entitled “Millennial Dawn” (later, “Studies in the Scriptures”). Written by C. T. Russell in easily understood language, Volume I was published in 1886. First called “The Plan of the Ages” and later “The Divine Plan of the Ages,” it covered such subjects as “The Existence of a Supreme Intelligent Creator Established,” “Our Lord’s Return—Its Object, the Restitution of All Things,” “The Day of Judgment,” “The Kingdom of God” and “The Day of Jehovah.” During a forty-year period, six million copies of this publication were distributed, helping hundreds of sincere truth seekers to come out of false religious bondage into Christian freedom.
In the course, of time, C. T. Russell wrote five other books of the “Millennial Dawn” Series. They were: Volume II, The Time is at Hand (1889); Volume III, Thy Kingdom Come (1891); Volume IV, The Battle of Armageddon (1897; originally called “The Day of Vengeance”); Volume V, The At-one-ment Between God and Man (1899); Volume VI, The New Creation (1904). Russell did not survive to write an intended seventh volume of this series.
What a response there was to such Christian publications! God’s spirit prompted individuals to act. In some cases, withdrawal from false religion was quick. “Its truth captured my heart at once,” wrote one woman in 1889, after reading a volume of Millennial Dawn. “Forthwith I withdrew from the Presbyterian Church where I had so long been groping in the dark for the truth, and found it not.” A clergyman wrote in 1891: “After preaching in the M[ethodist] E[piscopal] church for three years, during all of which time I have been earnestly seeking the truth, I am now, by the help of God, able to ‘come out of her.’”—Rev. 18:4.
A keen desire to preach the good news is displayed in the thoughts others expressed to the Society by letter. For instance, in 1891 a man and his wife wrote: “We have consecrated our all to the Lord and to his service to be used to his glory; and, the Lord willing, I am going to try the colporteur work as soon as I can get things arranged, and if the Lord accepts of my service and blesses me in doing his work, then we will break up housekeeping and both wife and I will engage in the harvest work.”
Quite interesting was correspondence the Society received in 1894 from one man who had obtained volumes of Millennial Dawn from two women who were colporteurs. He read the books, ordered additional copies, subscribed to Zion’s Watch Tower, and was moved to write: “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.” This letter was signed by J. F. Rutherford, who dedicated himself to Jehovah twelve years later and eventually succeeded C. T. Russell as president of the Watch Tower Society.
THE BIBLE HOUSE
The Bible Students had headquarters offices first at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and thereafter at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. By the late 1880’s, however, the accelerating work of publishing the good news and gathering sheeplike ones made expansion a necessity. So, Jehovah’s people built their own structure. Completed in 1889 at a cost of $34,000, this four-story brick building situated at 56-60 (later renumbered 610-614) Arch Street, Allegheny, was known as the “Bible House.” Originally it was held in title by the Tower Publishing Company, a private concern managed by C. T. Russell that for some years published literature for the Watch Tower Society at an agreed price. In April 1898, ownership of this plant and real estate was transferred by donation to the Watch Tower Society, its board of directors evaluating the structure and equipment at $164,033.65.
The Bible House served as the Society’s headquarters for some twenty years.
“What was it like at the Bible House in 1907?” asks Ora Sullivan Wakefield. Answering her own query, she says, in part: “There were only thirty of us in the ‘family’ and being small it was truly a family. . . . We all ate, slept, worked and worshipped in that one building. The chapel also had a place for baptism under the platform.”
Just think of it! Back in 1890 there were only about four hundred active associates of the Watch Tower Society. But Jehovah’s holy spirit was at work and was producing fine results. (Zech. 4:6, 10) Accordingly, the 1890’s were times of increase. In fact, hundreds gathered, on March 26, 1899, to memorialize the death of Jesus Christ, an incomplete report citing 339 groups with 2,501 participants. Indeed, sheeplike ones were flocking ‘into the pen.’—Mic. 2:12.
Growth of the preaching work had been spurred on by. C. T. Russell’s trip abroad in 1891. This 17,000-mile journey took him and his party to Europe, Asia and Africa. Thereafter a publications depot was set up in London. Also, arrangements were made to publish the Society’s literature in German, French, Swedish, Dano-Norwegian, Polish, Greek and, later, in Italian.
“TO THE HOUSE OF JEHOVAH LET US GO”
David rejoiced when it was said: “To the house of Jehovah let us go.” (Ps. 122:1) Comparably, the early Bible Students were delighted to gather for meetings and conventions. (Heb. 10:23-25) The spiritual rewards were many, but one thing always was lacking—the collection plate. Applicable to all meetings and conventions of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses is the slogan “Seats free, no collection.” Properly so, too, in view of Jesus Christ’s words: “You received free, give free.” Voluntary contributions have served to cover any expenses associated with meeting places of Jehovah’s people.—Matt. 10:8; 2 Cor. 9:7.
Suppose we join our fellow believers of earlier times as they travel to their weekly meetings. “Before and after the turn of the century,” comments Ralph H. Leffler, “there were very, very few meetings missed by us. In those days we had no cars. The only way that we who lived out in the country five miles from town could get to the meetings was either walk . . . or use a horse and buggy. Many, many times we used a horse and buggy or carriage to drive the ten miles round trip twice on Sundays to attend the meetings. Year after year, summer and winter, rain or shine, we realized it was our privilege to learn ever more and more about the truths of the Bible and to strengthen our faith. We did not want to miss any opportunity to associate with others of like faith.” Hazelle and Helen Krull remark: “When the snow covered the ground we went by horse and sleigh, covering the horse with a blanket during the meeting. Sometimes the horse waited patiently and sometimes it pawed impatiently.”
What were those early meetings like? One of them was based on Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices, first published by the Society in 1881. It considered the prophetic significance of Israel’s tabernacle and the sacrifices offered there. Even children benefited greatly from these studies. Recalling these meetings as held in one home, Sara C. Kaelin comments: “The group had increased and sometimes the children had to sit on the steps leading upstairs, but all had to learn and answer questions. What did the bullock represent? The Court? The Holy? The Most Holy? Day of Atonement? High Priest? Underpriest? It was so impressed on our minds that we could visualize the High Priest performing his duties and we knew what it meant.”
“Cottage Meetings” were held on Wednesday evenings. These also became known as Prayer, Praise and Testimony Meetings. Concerning them Edith R. Brenisen writes: “After a hymn and a prayer, the leader read an appropriate scripture, giving a few comments, and then the meeting was turned over to the friends to comment as they wished. Sometimes it would be a joyful experience one had in the service work or some evidence of Jehovah’s special leading or protection. One was free to offer a prayer or ask for a certain hymn to be sung, the words often expressing the thoughts of one’s heart better than the person could. It was an evening for meditation upon Jehovah’s loving care and for close association with our brothers and sisters. As we listened to some of their experiences we grew to know them better. Observing their faithfulness, seeing how they overcame their difficulties, often helped us in solving some of our own perplexities.” This meeting was the forerunner of what has since developed into the service meeting, held weekly by Jehovah’s witnesses today and so helpful to them in their preaching work.
In those early days, “Dawn Circles” were held on Friday evenings. These Bible studies were so named because volumes of Millennial Dawn were used. Ralph H. Leffler recalls that Sunday evening usually was devoted to a Bible study or a discourse on the Scriptures. What was known as a “chart talk” might be given. What was this? He explains: “Under the front cover of Volume I of Studies in the Scriptures there was a long chart. . . . That chart was enlarged to the size of a banner . . . and could be purchased from the Bible House in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. That chart was hung on the wall in front of the audience for all to see as the speaker for the occasion went about explaining its many arches and pyramids. The chart was a graphic illustration of the main Bible events from man’s creation to the end of the millennium and the beginning of ‘ages to come.’ . . . We learned much about Bible history from these ‘chart’ talks. And they were delivered frequently.”
“Chart talks” might be delivered at the regular meeting places of Jehovah’s people or elsewhere. Were these discourses effective? C. E. Sillaway recalls: “The talks must have borne some fruit, for the little group grew from six adults to about fifteen in less than two years.” On one occasion, William P. Mockridge gave a chart talk in a Baptist church in Long Island City, New York, “with the result that several members of [the Baptist preacher’s] church came into the truth and the minister . . . C. A. Erickson also came into the truth and became one of the Society’s traveling . . . speakers.”
The annual commemoration of Jesus Christ’s death afforded early Bible Students opportunities to hold conventions. (1 Cor. 11:23-26) One such gathering took place in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, April 7-14, 1892. Present were about 400 servants of Jehovah and interested persons from some twenty states and Manitoba, Canada. Since then, of course, spiritually rewarding conventions of God’s people have been held in many cities throughout the United States and the world. And how Jehovah has made things grow! From over 123 lands the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses drew to New York city’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds a combined audience of 253,922!
COURAGEOUS AND STRONG-HEARTED IN GOD’S SERVICE
“Volunteers Wanted!”—that was the striking title of an article in Zion’s Watch Tower of April 15, 1899. It proposed a new method of disseminating Bible truths—one sure to take Christendom’s clergy by storm. To participate in this work, a person would have to be courageous and strong-hearted. (Ps. 31:24) Jehovah’s people of that time were given the opportunity to engage in mass free distribution of 300,000 copies of a new booklet entitled “The Bible vs. Evolution.” It was to be handed to the people as they left the churches on Sunday. Christian volunteers by the thousands responded wholeheartedly, and a great work was done in the United States, Canada and Europe.
This volunteer work continued for years, especially on Sundays, and eventually was expanded to include house-to-house tract distribution. New tracts were published at least twice a year and were delivered to churchgoers by the millions. From 1909 onward, the Watch Tower Society released a new series of tracts called “Peoples Pulpit” (then “Everybody’s Paper” and later “The Bible Students Monthly”). Through these monthly tracts religious error was exposed, Scriptural truths were explained and the nations were warned about the highly significant year 1914. Cartoons and illustrations added to the effectiveness of these tracts. By such tract distribution, God’s servants were more and more noticed by the public, becoming widely known as Bible Students and International Bible Students.
“Each class had a Volunteer Captain who planned the work,” says Edith R. Brenisen, “and the workers were called Volunteers. . . . Sunday mornings were spent in this volunteer work. It took us to the church doors. We passed out the tracts as the people came out of church. . . . At twelve o’clock, as the people came out, we handed the literature to them and then waited until one o’clock so as to serve those who stayed for Sunday school. Almost everyone took a tract. Some threw theirs on the ground and, of course, we gathered those up. The message the tracts contained was ‘Come Out of Her, My People.’”
Many pleasant evenings were spent preparing the tracts for distribution. Margaret Duth recalls evenings when fellow Christians met at her home for that purpose, and writes: “We would open the dining room table full length and some of us would separate the tracts while others folded them; another group would stamp them with the time and location of the Sunday afternoon lecture.”
Next came the distribution itself. According to Samuel Van Sipma, this “was an activity of the Bible Students in which practically everyone shared.” He adds: “Many of us would get up early on Sunday morning [about five o’clock] and leave tracts on the porches or under the doors of the homes in a section of territory assigned, two or four usually working together. Of course, tracts were also distributed at other times . . . Some have not inappropriately referred to this tracting activity as scattering gems like morning dew, and unquestionably many were indeed refreshed as a result of reading these inspiring pages of divine truth.”
Even Christian children shared in tract distribution work. Grace A. Estep recalls how she and her two eldest brothers “would tiptoe onto the porches early on Sunday mornings and slip the tracts under the doors.” Opposition might well be encountered, for Sister Estep continues: “Sometimes a door would suddenly open and a veritable giant of a grown-up would appear, usually screaming invectives and sometimes chasing us with brooms or canes or flailing arms, and making dire threats if we should ever dare to return . . . Now and then, however, someone would accept the tract or smile at us, and then we’d rush home to tell our parents.”
Use of tracts produced good results. For example, Victor V. Blackwell tells us: “It was a tract which brought the Kingdom truth into our home. A tract was the beginning of a solid foundation of Bible truth for my father, my mother, myself and children, besides many others who accepted and embraced the hope-and faith-inspiring information about the Kingdom government for all mankind.”
USING THE PUBLIC PRESS
“Another feature [of the work] that cannot be overlooked lightly,” says George E. Hannan, “was the publishing of Pastor Rusell’s sermons in the newspapers.” An international newspaper syndicate featuring C. T. Russell’s sermons was developed. Though Russell might be traveling, weekly he would send this syndicate, made up of four members of the Society’s headquarters staff, a sermon about two newspaper columns in length. They, in turn, retelegraphed it to newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe. The Society bore the telegraph expense, but the newspaper space was given free.
A publication named “The Continent” once stated concerning C. T. Russell: “His writings are said to have greater newspaper circulation every week than those of any other living man; a greater, doubtless, than the combined circulation of the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America; greater even than the work of Arthur Brisbane, Norman Hapgood, George Horace Lorimer, Dr. Frank Crane, Frederick Haskins, and a dozen other of the best known editors and syndicate writers put together.” But it was not Russell as a man that was important. The wide circulation of the good news was vitally significant. “More than 2,000 newspapers, with a combined circulation of fifteen million readers, at one time published his discourses,” said The Watch Tower of December 1, 1916. “All told, more than 4,000 newspapers published these sermons.” Here, then, was another means of spreading Bible truths.
“CLASS EXTENSION WORK”
The courageous activities of Jehovah’s servants were intensifying as another feature of their work came on the scene in 1911. Known as the “class extension work,” it was an extensive public lecture campaign. Taking up this new work were forty-eight traveling ministers sent out on assigned routes as public speakers. But “class extension work” involved more than this. The names and addresses of interested persons who attended the discourses were obtained, and these individuals were visited at home by Bible Students, all in an effort to gather such ones together and form new congregations. Colporteurs helped to organize these congregations, and many new ones were formed. By 1914, in fact, 1,200 congregations were functioning in connection with the Watch Tower Society throughout the earth.
“After obtaining the use of a hall for a public talk,” say Hazelle and Helen Krull, “we arranged for announcements in the weekly newspaper and made calls giving personal invitations. We also set a slant board at the entrance of the hall with a chalk-written announcement of the meeting. Many of these halls had only lamplight. If interest was shown at the initial meeting, we followed up with further talks. We made it a point to greet and talk personally to each one of the little group that gathered (and it was usually a little group) and to call at the homes of the interested ones to further their interest.”
TRAVELING WITH THE PILGRIMS
As early as 1894, twenty-one traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society were sent out to hold public meetings and to upbuild congregations of Bible Students spiritually. They traveled on a fixed route, and as congregations grew in number additional pilgrims, as they were called, were sent on the road. Pilgrims served the interests of God’s people from the 1890’s to the late 1920’s. Their attitude was like that of Paul, who told Roman Christians: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”—Rom. 1:11, 12.
Personality traits of the traveling pilgrims varied, as did those of Jesus Christ’s apostles. (Luke 9:54; John 20:24, 25; 21:7, 8) “Brother Thorn had a most mild manner, was an exceedingly well-groomed, goateed little man,” comments Grant Suiter, adding: “The pilgrims were impressively neat. . . . More importantly, they aided their listeners to develop faith in the Word of God.” When Harold B. Duncan first met Brother Thorn, “it made a loving and lasting impression.” Brother Duncan says: “His talk to the group was like a father giving loving and affectionate counsel to his sons and daughters, and grandsons, sort of like a patriarch in times of old.”
Grace A. Estep recalls: “Brother Hersee loved music, and after we children had been sent to bed, mom would play the piano, dad the violin, and Brother Hersee would sing the ‘hymns.’ . . . Of the others whom we knew and loved so much—Brother [Clayton J.] Woodworth, Brother Macmillan and others whose lives were such a fine example of endurance—there is a special affection for Brother Van Amburgh. He was so full of gentleness and tenderness toward the ‘dearly beloved’ that he often made me think of what the beloved apostle John must have been like.”
Looking back to the days when she was a young girl and pilgrim brothers stayed in her home, Ethel G. Rohner states: “They were always interested in us young folks—my sister and brother also. We always enjoyed their visits. As a young girl, I was a little awed by their quiet confidence and faith—accepting all things as Jehovah’s will. They really left us young folks a fine example of Christian fortitude and faith.”
Doubtless many of the pilgrims endeared themselves to their fellow believers also because they made themselves “at home” when visiting. “What made the visit so pleasant?” asks Mary M. Hinds. She answers: “Greetings dispensed with, the pilgrim questions daddy as to the public meetings, whether or not he has any questions about the articles in The Watch Tower, how things are moving along in the little town, if anyone else is showing interest since the last visit, and other routine questions. For a little while his attention is directed to us children (three of us now) before he retires to his room. ‘Isn’t he nice! He talks to us!’ We are thrilled and off to a good start to enjoy every minute of his stay, usually one or two days. Maybe it is Benjamin Barton who has given me a picture postcard that he brought from the 1910 Chatauqua Lake convention, and he has pasted his picture on the back of it. Or perhaps Brother J. A. Bohnet has made my brother a kite and is helping him fly it. . . . Brother A. H. Macmillan may take a moment to go out to the cornfield with us and select six nice ears of corn for his dinner.”
“Some of the pilgrims had personal peculiarities and these were noted, of course,” admits Harold P. Woodworth, “but there were outstanding qualities—gifts of the holy spirit that left a deep and lasting influence.” Sister Earl E. Newell remarks: “I will never, never forget a statement that Brother Thorn made that has helped me to this day. He said, and I quote, ‘Whenever I get to thinking a great deal of myself, I take myself into the corner, so to speak, and say: “You little speck of dust. What have you got to be proud of?”’” A noteworthy trait, indeed, for “the result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.”—Prov. 22:4.
These traveling pilgrims did not have an easy time in journeying from place to place. Concerning trips of her husband Edward, who once served in this capacity, Edith R. Brenisen wrote: “To reach some of the out-of-the-way places it was often necessary to travel by train, stagecoach, wagons of all kinds and horseback. Some of such trips were very exciting. . . . One appointment was in or near Klamath Falls, Oregon. To get there after going part way by train he then had to take an overnight trip by stagecoach. The next day he was met at a little town by a brother who was there with a buckboard. (In case you never saw or rode in one, I’ll tell you that it is just a wooden wagon mounted on four wheels that are set on the axles, with no springs. If a person did not have back trouble before his ride, he surely did after.) A long ride took them into the mountains to the brother’s farm in a beautiful valley beside a mountain stream.”
What about that particular pilgrim visit itself? Sister Brenisen adds: “Soon the yard was well filled with teams of all descriptions, bringing the friends from afar to hear the pilgrim. The meeting began at three o’clock with a two-hour talk, after which questions were invited, and there were many. They did stop long enough for a nice evening meal that the sisters had provided, after which there was another two-hour talk, followed by more questions.” That night the sisters slept in the house and the brothers in the hay. A room in the house had been reserved for the pilgrim, but Brother Brenisen preferred to go to the barn along with the brothers. “Morning came,” says Sister Brenisen, “and after a hearty breakfast the brother saddled three horses, one a pack horse and one for each of them. To get to the train that would take him to his next appointment they had to take a trip of sixty miles right through the wilds to the nearest railroad station. Sometime later Edward received a letter from the sister telling him that after they left she went to the barn for the pillow and there it was with the impression his head had made in it. When she picked it up, right under that spot was a big rattlesnake all coiled up, having enjoyed the warmth of his head. The snake was quite indignant about being disturbed and showed it. How very often it is better to be ignorant of some facts!”
What about discourses of the pilgrims? What were they like? Concerning one pilgrim, Brother Toutjian, Ray C. Bopp says: “This brother was an instructor. He taught by illustrations . . . [He had] a scale model of the tabernacle in the wilderness, which he laid out on a table . . . The holy, the most holy, the courtyard with the altar of burnt offering and the basin were enclosed with a cloth fence about four inches high hanging like drapery from little metal bars. Figurines of priests in authentic robes were set in their proper places and were moved about as they performed their functions . . . [as Brother Toutjian] described each observance and its prophetic meaning based on the reference book Tabernacle Shadows.”
“A public lecture was always scheduled,” comments Mary M. Hinds, “and oftentimes the pilgrims would give a talk on the Chart, explaining the ‘dispensations’ and ‘ages’ marked on it. At least one brother, M. L. Herr, had an illustrated lecture. Using still-life slides, he made the little Ruthie of his talk come to life by means of the resurrection. Yes, lifelong impressions were made by these brothers, the connecting link in those days between the headquarters of this growing organization and the isolated subscribers to the Watch Tower and the ‘ecclesias’ that were being organized.” Ollie Stapleton expresses her sentiments, saying: “These visits were occasions for spiritual upbuilding and instruction, and helped us to work more closely at unity with Jehovah’s organization.”
EXPANSION AS THE GENTILE TIMES NEAR THEIR END
As the Bible Students found themselves in the first decade of the twentieth century, they were aware that time was running out for the nations. Long had God’s people looked to 1914 as the end of the 2,520-year-long Gentile Times. (Luke 21:24, King James Version) Now it was a few short years away, and C. T. Russell prepared to undertake an all-out worldwide campaign as a testimony to the nations. But for such extensive international work the Bible House in Allegheny was far too small.
In 1908, therefore, several representatives of the Watch Tower Society, including J. F. Rutherford (then its legal counselor), were sent to New York city. Why? To secure more suitable quarters, property that Russell himself had located on an earlier trip. This they did, purchasing the old “Plymouth Bethel,” 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, New York. It was a mission structure completed in 1868 for the nearby Plymouth Congregational Church, where Henry Ward Beecher once served as pastor. The Society’s delegation also bought Beecher’s old four-story brownstone parsonage at 124 Columbia Heights, only a few blocks away.
Beecher’s former residence soon became the new home of the Society’s headquarters staff of over thirty persons, and it was called “Bethel,” meaning “House of God.” The remodeled Hicks Street building became known as “The Brooklyn Tabernacle.” It housed the Society’s offices and a fine auditorium. On January 31, 1909, 350 persons were present for the dedication of the Society’s new headquarters.
At Bethel was located C. T. Russell’s study. Downstairs was the dining room, with a long table that would accommodate forty-four persons. The family would assemble here to sing a hymn, read the “Vow” and join in prayer before breakfast. At the beginning of the meal a Bible text was read from Daily Heavenly Manna for the Household of Faith, and this was discussed during breakfast.
Would you like to hear the vow that was daily impressed on their minds? Entitled “My Solemn Vow to God,” it goes like this:
“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. May thy rule come into my heart more and more, and thy will be done in my mortal body. Relying on the assistance of thy promised grace to help in every time of need, through Jesus Christ our Lord, I register this Vow.
“Daily will I remember at the throne of heavenly grace the general interests of the harvest work, and particularly the share which I myself am privileged to enjoy in that work, and the dear co-laborers at the Brooklyn Bethel, and everywhere.
“I Vow to still more carefully, if possible, scrutinize my thoughts and words and doings, to the intent that I may be the better enabled to serve thee, and thy dear flock.
“I Vow to thee that I will be on the alert to resist everything akin to Spiritism and Occultism, and that, remembering that there are but the two masters, I shall resist these snares in all reasonable ways, as being of the Adversary.
“I further Vow that, with the exceptions below, I will at all times and at all places, conduct myself toward those of the opposite sex in private exactly as I would do with them in public—in the presence of a congregation of the Lord’s people, and so far as reasonably possible I will avoid being in the same room with any of the opposite sex alone, unless the door to the room stand wide open:—In the case of a brother—wife, children, mother and sisters excepted. In the case of a sister—husband, children, father and brothers excepted.”
Recitation of this vow was later discontinued among God’s people at Bethel and elsewhere. Yet, the high principles embodied in its words are still sound.
About three blocks from Bethel was the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a quaint old red-brick structure consisting of two floors and a basement. It housed the Society’s general offices, the composing room, where type was set for The Watch Tower, a stock room and also a shipping room. On the second floor was an auditorium with seating for 800. Here Brother Russell regularly spoke.
For a time the Society’s headquarters staff was housed largely at 124 Columbia Heights. Later, the adjoining building at 122 Columbia Heights was purchased, enlarging the Bethel home. The year 1911 saw the completion of a rear addition extending nine floors down a precipice to Furman Street. It provided much more space for living quarters and other facilities, including a new dining room. To hold title to such properties, in 1909 Jehovah’s servants formed the People’s Pulpit Association, now known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated. It and other corporations formed by God’s people in various lands all cooperate with one another and with the governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses.
‘BLESSING JEHOVAH AMONG CONGREGATED THRONGS’
Regular conventions and other public gatherings of the Bible Students were excellent occasions to ‘bless Jehovah among congregated throngs,’ even as God’s servants had done in times past. (Ps. 26:12) What was the nature of these events? Let us see.
‘Even here, in the highest balcony of the world-famed Auditorium Theater, home of the Chicago Grand Opera, not a seat is unoccupied. As I look seven floors down toward the stage, one-half block away, I wonder if it will be necessary to strain my ears to hear. Following the chairman’s introduction, Charles Taze Russell rises to his feet, places his left forefinger to his right palm and begins to speak in a normal tone of voice. He has no notes. There is no podium. He moves freely about the platform. Every word is clearly discernible, as he describes the prophetic ending of the Gentile Times and the ushering in of the Millennial Age.’
This is the recollection of Ray C. Bopp. It is but an example. The place might just as well have been London’s Royal Albert Hall, where C. T. Russell spoke to great audiences in May 1910. Then, again, it might have been New York city’s noted Hippodrome Theatre, where Russell addressed a large Jewish audience on Sunday, October 9, 1910. Regarding that discourse, the New York American of October 10, 1910, said, in part: “The unusual spectacle of 4,000 Hebrews enthusiastically applauding a Gentile preacher, after having listened to a sermon he addressed to them concerning their own religion, was presented at the Hippodrome yesterday afternoon, where Pastor Russell, the famous head of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, conducted a most unusual service.” Scores of rabbis and teachers were present. “There were no preliminaries,” said the newspaper. “Pastor Russell, tall, erect and white-bearded, walked across the stage without introduction, raised his hand, and his double quartette from the Brooklyn Tabernacle sang the hymn, ‘Zion’s Glad Day.’” As reported, eventually the audience ‘warmed up’ to the speaker. Next there was applause, finally enthusiastic response. The discourse over, Russell signaled again and the choir “raised the quaint, foreign-sounding strains of the Zion hymn, ‘Our Hope,’ one of the masterpieces of the eccentric East Side poet Imber.” The effect? This, according to the press account: “The unprecedented incident of Christian voices singing the Jewish anthem came as a tremendous surprise. For a moment the Hebrew auditors could scarcely believe their ears. Then, making sure it was their own hymn, they first cheered and clapped with such ardor that the music was drowned out, and then, with the second verse, joined in by hundreds. At the height of the enthusiasm over the dramatic surprise he prepared, Pastor Russell walked off the stage and the meeting ended with the end of the hymn.”
Times have changed, and so have Christian views of Biblical prophecies once thought to apply to natural Jews in our day. With increased light from God, his people have discerned that such words foretell good things for the spiritual “Israel of God,” Jesus Christ’s anointed followers. (Rom. 9:6-8, 30-33; 11:17-32; Gal. 6:16) But we have been reviewing the early twentieth century, and this is how things were in those days.
Since Brother Russell was so widely known and spoke to large audiences on many occasions, you may wonder what it was like to listen to him. “How different from the ordinary preacher!” exclaims C. B. Tvedt, adding: “No oratory, no emotionalism. No begging to hit the sawdust trail. There was something far more effective and powerful than all of these put together! That was the simple,quiet, confident expounding of the Word of God—letting one scripture unlock another one until it became, as it were, a powerful magnet. In this way Brother Russell held his audience in rapt attention.” Ralph H. Leffler says that before giving a discourse Brother Russell made several graceful bows to the audience. When speaking, he usually stood on the open platform and would walk about, using his arms freely in gesturing. “He never used notes . . . but always spoke freely from the heart,” according to Brother Leffler, who continues: “His voice was not loud, but it had peculiar carrying power. Without ever using sound amplifying equipment (there was none in those days), he could be heard and understood by large audiences, holding them as if spellbound for one, two and sometimes three hours at a time.”
Yet, the man was not important. The message was, and Bible truth was being declared to multitudes. There were many capable Christians proclaiming the good news in those days, and some persons heard their words with appreciation. Opponents were numerous, of course, and they sometimes sought to promote their unscriptural views in public debate with Jehovah’s servants.
In what later appeared to be an attempt by the Pittsburgh ministerial alliance to discredit C. T. Russell’s scholarship and Biblical views, on March 10, 1903, Dr. E. L. Eaton, minister of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, challenged Russell to a six-day debate. During each session of this debate, held that autumn in Allegheny’s Carnegie Hall, on the whole Russell came off victorious. Among other things, he Scripturally maintained that the souls of the dead are unconscious while their bodies are in the grave and that the object of both Christ’s second coming and the millennium is the blessing of all the families of the earth. Russell also made a very strong Biblical denial of the hellfire doctrine. Reportedly, one clergyman approached him after the last session of the debate and said: “I am glad to see you turn the hose on hell and put out the fire.” Interestingly, after this debate many members of Eaton’s congregation became Bible Students.
Another significant debate took place on February 23-28, 1908, at Cincinnati, Ohio, between C. T. Russell and L. S. White of the “Disciple” denomination. Thousands attended. Russell courageously upheld such Scriptural teachings as the unconscious state of the dead between death and resurrection, and Biblically maintained that Christ’s second coming will precede the millennium and that the object of both is the blessing of all families of the earth. Hazelle and Helen Krull were present and tell us: “Beauty and harmony of truth and fine Scriptural arguments on each subject of debate stood out in stark contrast to the confusing teachings of men. At one point ‘Elder White,’ spokesman and debater for the opposing views, in desperation said that he was reminded of a sign over a blacksmith shop reading ‘All kinds of twisting and turning done here.’ But, to the honest truth seeker, was a demonstration of ‘handling the word of the truth aright’ [on the part of Russell; 2 Tim. 2:15], with resultant harmony.” The Krull sisters recall that Jehovah blessed Brother Russell with His spirit to present the truth ably, and they term the event “a triumph of truth over error.”
J. F. Rutherford accepted a Baptist debate challenge in behalf of the Watch Tower Society against J. H. Troy. It took place in April 1915 at the Trinity Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, before an audience of 12,000 (with an estimated 10,000 being turned away for lack of space) during the four nights of the debate. Rutherford was victorious in courageously defending Bible truth.
In the twelve years following the Eaton-Russell debate, other debating challenges were accepted by God’s servants, though the opponents, perhaps out of fear, usually called off the engagements. C. T. Russell himself did not favor debates, for he was aware of their disadvantages for Christians. In The Watch Tower of May 1, 1915, he pointed out, among other things, that ‘those who are of the truth are bound by the Golden Rule and their presentation must be along absolutely fair lines, whereas their opponents seem to have no restrictions or restraints.’ “Any kind of argument,” wrote Russell, “regardless of the context, regardless of the Golden Rule, regardless of everything, is considered permissible.” He also stated: “So far as the Editor is concerned, he has no desire for further debates. He does not favor debating, believing that it rarely accomplishes good and often arouses anger, malice, bitterness, etc., in both speakers and hearers. Rather he sets before those who desire to hear it, orally and in print, the message of the Lord’s Word and leaves to opponents such presentations of the error as they see fit to make and find opportunity to exploit.—Hebrews 4:12.”
Bible discourses themselves afforded better opportunities to present Scriptural truths, and C. T. Russell often spoke to large audiences. During the years of 1905 to 1907, for instance, he toured the United States and Canada by special train or car and conducted a series of one-day conventions. His public lecture then was “To Hell and Back.” Delivered before packed houses in nearly every large city in both countries, this discourse featured a humorous, imaginary trip to hell and back. Louise Cosby recalls that Russell agreed to give this lecture in Lynchburg, Virginia, and she says: “My father had big posters made advertising this lecture and got permission to place them on the front of the streetcars. This was quite amusing and people asked, If this car takes us to hell, will it bring us back?”
Bible lectures also were featured during C. T. Russell’s trips abroad. In 1903 he had made a second journey to Europe, speaking to audiences in various cities. Then, from December 1911 to March 1912, Russell, as chairman of a seven-man committee, made a round-the-world tour, traveling to Hawaii, Japan, China, through southern Asia into Africa, on to Europe and back to New York. A study of Christendom’s foreign missions was undertaken and many lectures were given, thus spreading seeds of truth that, in time, brought into fruitful activity groups of anointed Christians in far-flung areas of the earth. Besides this worldwide tour, however, C. T. Russell journeyed to Europe regularly and traveled extensively throughout North America on “convention tour” special trains, accompanied by many fellow workers.
ABOARD A “CONVENTION TRAIN”
As time passed, requests for personal appearances by C. T. Russell increased. In fulfilling some speaking engagements, he sometimes had traveled aboard a special railroad “convention car,” a small group accompanying him. But larger parties were organized in “convention trains,” as many as 240 traveling with Russell on one occasion. Several railroad cars were linked together and the party traveled from one city to another according to a prearranged schedule. Arriving in a particular city, Russell’s assistants advertised the public meeting by distributing handbills. At the meeting they greeted individuals, obtained the names and addresses of interested ones and, when possible, would visit these and establish congregations. It was not uncommon for these “convention trains” to be used in visiting large cities in the United States and Canada.
Why not board a “convention train” and ride with a happy company of Christians? In June 1913 a special train was engaged for over 200 Bible Students who would accompany C. T. Russell from Chicago, Illinois, on a trip that would take them to Texas, California, Canada and then to a convention in Madison, Wisconsin, with a side-run to Rockford, Illinois. Malinda Z. Keefer supplies these details: “Our train was to leave from the Dearborn station over the Wabash Railroad at noon, June 2. The friends began to arrive about ten o’clock, and it was a happy and exciting time, meeting old friends I had not seen for a long time and getting acquainted with new ones. It didn’t take long to realize we were one big family. . . . and the train was our home for a month.”
Finally, it is time to leave. “As the train pulled out of the station on its 8,000-mile journey,” continues Sister Keefer, “the friends who had come to say good-bye sang ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds’ and ‘God Be with You Till We Meet Again,’ all the while waving hats and handkerchiefs until we were lost to their view, and were on our way for a most memorable trip. We picked up some friends in St. Louis, Missouri, and some in a few other places until we finally numbered two hundred and forty. Brother Russell joined us at Hot Springs, Arkansas, where an eight-day convention was in session.”
It truly was a spiritually upbuilding journey. Says Sister Keefer: “At every stop on the trip there were conventions being held—most were for three days, and we stayed one day with each convention. During these stops Brother Russell gave two talks, one to the friends in the afternoon, and another to the public in the evening on the subject ‘Beyond the Grave.’” As to her own feelings about the trip, Sister Keefer says: “My appreciation for the fellowship of the friends all along the way and the spiritually upbuilding talks and instructions I had received during that trip cannot be expressed in words. I was grateful to Jehovah for having had such a privilege.”
At those early conventions of God’s people some things were a little different from what they are today. For example, take the “love feast.” What was that? Recalling this feature of the early assemblies, J. W. Ashelman states: “Some practices not needed or continued did seem a blessing at the time, such as the speakers lining up in front of the platform holding plates of diced bread as the audience filed along the line partaking of the bread and shaking hands with each speaker and joining in singing ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds Our Hearts in Christian Love.’” That was it—the “love feast.” And it was a moving experience. Edith R. Brenisen readily admits: “The love for each other filled our hearts to overflowing, often running down our cheeks in tears of joy. We were not ashamed of our tears nor did we try to hide them.”
Early Christians sometimes held “love feasts,” but the Bible does not describe them. (Jude 12) Some think they were occasions when materially prosperous Christians held banquets to which they invited their poorer fellow worshipers. But the Scriptures do not make “love feasts” obligatory, whatever their early nature, and so they are not in vogue among true Christians today.
A NEW WAY TO DECLARE THE GOOD NEWS
The Bible Students were keenly aware of Jesus Christ’s prophecy: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt. 24:14, King James Version) So, as that significant year 1914 drew closer, God’s people undertook an all-out campaign of worldwide proportions—a hitherto unparalleled educational and warning work. They employed a bold, new method of declaring the good news.
Say it now is the year 1914. Imagine that you are seated among hundreds of persons in a darkened auditorium. Before you is a large motion-picture screen. To your surprise, a white-haired man in a frock coat appears, and, without a note in hand, he begins to speak. Oh, you have been to the movies before. But this one is different. The man speaks and you hear his words. This is no common silent movie. It is something special, both technically and in the message it conveys, and you are impressed. The man? He is Charles Taze Russell. This production? It is the “Photo-Drama of Creation.”
C. T. Russell recognized that motion pictures were a fine medium for reaching masses of people. In 1912, therefore, he began preparing the Photo-Drama of Creation. It turned out to be an eight-hour-long photographic slide and moving picture production, complete with color and sound. Designed to be shown in four parts, the Photo-Drama carried viewers from creation through human history to the climax of God’s purpose for earth and mankind at the end of Jesus Christ’s thousand-year reign. Pictorial slides and motion pictures were synchronized with phonograph records of talks and music. There had been various experiments with color and sound movies, but years would pass before they would be commercially successful. Not until 1922 did an all-color, feature-length motion picture make an appearance. And film audiences in general had to wait until 1927 to hear both dialogue and music combined in a commercial movie. Yet, the Photo-Drama of Creation was not without the color, the spoken word and the music. It was years ahead of its time, and millions saw it free of charge!
A fortune for those days—some $300,000—was spent by the Society in producing the Photo-Drama. And of the work involved, Russell wrote: “God kindly veiled our eyes as respects the amount of labor connected with the DRAMA. Had we foreknown the cost of time and money and patience necessary for the start we would never have begun it. But neither did we know in advance the great success that would attend the DRAMA.” Choice musical recordings and ninety-six phonograph-record talks were prepared. Stereopticon slides were made of fine art pictures illustrating world history, and it was necessary to make hundreds of new paintings and sketches. All the color slides and films had to be hand painted, some of this work being accomplished in the Society’s own Art Room. And, think of it! This had to be done repeatedly, for there were at least twenty four-part sets prepared, making it possible to show a portion of the Drama in eighty different cities on a given day.
What took place behind the scenes during exhibitions of the Photo-Drama of Creation? “The Drama started with a movie of Brother Russell,” says Alice Hoffman. “As he would appear on the screen and his lips began to move, a phonograph would be started at the precise moment and we would enjoy listening to his voice.”
The unfolding of a flower and the hatching of a chick were among the memorable features of the Photo-Drama movies. These examples of time-lapse photography truly impressed viewers. “At the same time that these pictures were being shown,” comments Karl F. Klein, “there was an accompaniment of very fine music, such gems as Narcissus and Humoreske.”
There were also many other things to remember. “Right now,” says Martha Meredith, “I see Noah and his family walking into the ark with the animals, and the picture of Abraham and Isaac walking to Mount Moriah where Abraham was going to offer his son as a sacrifice. When I saw Abraham put his son on the altar—this son he dearly loved—I shed tears. No wonder Jehovah called Abraham his friend . . . he knew that Abraham would obey his voice at all times.”—Jas. 2:23.
Besides the regular Photo-Drama of Creation, there were “Eureka Drama” outfits. One was made up of the ninety-six recorded lectures, as well as musical recordings. The other consisted of both the records and the slides. Though the latter Eureka Drama lacked motion pictures, it was very successful when shown in less densely populated areas.
During 1914 the Photo-Drama of Creation was shown free throughout the United States. This was very expensive, both for the Society and for the local Bible Students, who contributed money to rent suitable places for its exhibition. And so, in the course of time, it no longer was shown to large audiences. But the Photo-Drama of Creation had done a great work in acquainting persons with God’s Word and purposes.
To illustrate: In a letter to C. T. Russell, one person wrote: “My wife and I truly thank our heavenly Father for the great and priceless blessing which has come to us through your instrumentality. It was your beautiful Photo-Drama which was the cause of our seeing and accepting the truth as our own.” And Lily R. Parnell, tells us: “These pictorial demonstrations of Jehovah’s purposes for mankind aroused the interest of many thinking people so that the congregation [at Greenfield, Massachusetts] grew larger, since they made the Bible a living book and proved to thoughtful ones what precious information our God had provided for salvation to those who would avail themselves of his provision.”
Not without reason, therefore, has it been said by Demetrius Papageorge, long a member of the Society’s headquarters staff: “The Photo-Drama was a masterpiece of a project, when we consider the small number of Bible Students and the proportionately small amount of finances available. It really was Jehovah’s spirit behind it!”
COLPORTEURS “AGLOW WITH THE SPIRIT”
For many years prior to 1914 zealous colporteurs—Christian men and women “aglow with the spirit”—had been spreading the good news far and wide. (Rom. 12:11) The colporteur service began in 1881, when Zion’s Watch Tower carried the article “Wanted 1,000 Preachers.” To persons without dependent families and who could give one half or more of their time to the Lord’s work a plan was suggested. It was that they go into large and small cities as colporteurs or evangelists. For what purpose? Said the Watch Tower: “Seek to find in every place the earnest Christians . . . to these seek to make known the riches of Our Father’s grace, and the beauties of His word.” Bible publications were to be placed in the hands of such persons, and colporteurs were permitted to pay their own expenses with money received from literature placements and Watch Tower subscriptions that they obtained.
For the colporteurs Zion’s Watch Tower of May 1887 had some fine suggestions on what to say at the doors. It also said: “Take a big heart full of love for God and for those you would lead into the light, full of faith in God and trust in his promises, and full of hope that God will be pleased to use you to his glory now as well as hereafter.”
Willing to work hard in Jehovah’s service, the colporteurs made their mark. Wherever they went—into cities, towns, villages—they were noticed. A writer in The Gospel Messenger of the late 1890’s was moved to say: “In the city of Birmingham [Alabama] there are several persons now working who call themselves ‘Non-Sectarian Christians.’ . . . They have worked this city from house to house, selling MILLENNIAL DAWN and circulating other brief literature. They talk their religion every chance, and preach on Sunday. They call themselves ‘Colporteurs.’ They have put over two thousand copies of their books in this city. . . . Now, why cannot we disseminate our literature and the Bible doctrine, as we understand it, in this way? The fact is, I fear, we have stagnated on methods, and God is gradually hinting to us that, if we do not get to moving forward, he will give us a back seat.”
“Yes, we had colporteurs cover the towns and rurals in those early days,” writes Henry Farnick. He remembers them well: “Sometimes they would trade for farm produce, chickens, soap and what-not, which they would use or sell to others. At times, in a sparsely settled area, they stayed with farmers and ranchers overnight, and at times even slept in haystacks . . . These faithful ones kept on for years and years until age overtook them.”
Through the years Jehovah made ample provision for faithful colporteurs. So, they really lacked nothing essential. (Ps. 23:1) “We lived frugally on the contributions received from the placement of literature,” says Clarence S. Huzzey. “This took faith in Jehovah’s loving provisions and I can honestly say that we never went hungry and we had the necessary shelter and clothing during the many years in the full-time ministry. (Ps. 37:25) How wonderfully Jehovah provided what was needed!”
Living costs were not very high years ago, but that did not mean that colporteurs could afford to be extravagant. Take the year 1910 as an example. Malinda Z. Keefer recalls a colporteur assignment in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and she writes: “Council Bluffs was harder territory, but by going with a positive attitude one could get along. The cost of living was so much cheaper in those days. Our mode of transportation (walking) didn’t cost much and neither did the food: bread was 5c a loaf, sugar 5c a pound, steak 25c a pound—and this was a real treat, if we could get any. Room rentals were reasonable and trolley car fares were 5c. What a different world compared with the nineteen seventies!”
Late in 1921, George E. Hannan entered colporteur service. Concerning the cost of living, he once wrote: “My food bill came to $4 per week. I had one warm meal a day, the other two consisting of dried fruits and some vegetables that I received in trade for literature. When asked what I would do when I ran out of funds, I would say: ‘Just wait and see what Jehovah works out for me.’ I had heard of some who had quit when they got down to their last $50. My thought was that Jehovah’s intervention was not needed in this regard as long as one had $50 or even $10 or $1. I had confidence he would aid me to meet the high cost of living, not the cost of high living.”
What about transportation? Well, Charles H. Capen recalls working several Pennsylvania counties “by ‘shanks’ mare’ (on foot).” Other colporteurs found the bicycle to be a real help. “In the years from 1911 to 1914, colporteurs were working counties in our section of Ohio,” comments LaRue Witchey, continuing: “They labored hard in the service, pedaling bicycles many miles, loaded with ‘Scripture Studies.’” Of course, a colporteur’s first ride on a bicycle could be quite an experience.
Maybe a horse would be better. Malinda Z. Keefer fondly recalls old Dobbin. “Dobbin was a gentle horse and never had to be tied. He would wait for me when I went to the doors and then walk along with me to the next place.”
But, then, not all horses were like old Dobbin, as colporteur Anna E. Zimmerman and Esther Snyder learned. Imagine two women in a rented buggy pulled by a horse just shipped in from the west. Sister Zimmerman tells us that the horse “would let nothing pass him by, not even the train, which for several miles before reaching the livery stable ran parallel with the road. I called over to the engineer, ‘Please hold your train at the station until we get our horse to the livery stable.’ He replied: ‘O.K. Take your time.’ The horse continued putting up and down all four as fast as ever. We reached the stable O.K. with the stable owner apologizing that he was at lunch when we hired the horse and that the stable boy, being afraid of the horse, which it was his job to break in, gave me that job.”
Then there was the automobile, used by some colporteurs in later years. Today, of course, well-paved roads are common in most areas of the United States. But not so decades ago. So, auto travels could present problems too. Once, for instance, “one covered hole was so vast and the filled-in ground so soft, the car suddenly sank into the hole to the axle,” write Hazelle and Helen Krull. “Our often-used shovel wasn’t enough for this predicament,” they recall. “A kind neighbor offered the use of his mule, but, in addition, we scoured the roadside for logs, beams or branches to pry up the deeply sunken rear end. So with mule power at the fore, engine power in the middle, and vigorous push power from the rear, after many unsuccessful attempts it was a happy moment for all when the car was finally up and out of the hole. But the day had its joys. Before this happened we had made some interesting calls, some away in off the road to which we walked; so the hardship was balanced with joy. As with David, our hearts so often pleaded: ‘Do hear, O God, my entreating cry. Do pay attention to my prayer.’—Ps. 61:1.”
Much more significant than any problems they encountered were the preaching activities of the colporteurs. Suppose we accompany them now as they call at the homes of the people. William P. Mockridge joined Vincent C. Rice in colporteur work during 1906 at Schenectady, New York. He helps us to step back to those days by saying: “The first day I worked all day without making a single placement and yet I was supposed to be a supersalesman. That night I prayed to Jehovah to help me get ‘asbestos’ and material things out of my mind and learn to follow the humble and kind approach of Brother Rice, who always had a cheerful word for whoever came to the door. So, soon I commenced placing many bound books, using a ‘prospectus’ furnished by the Society. . . . We would ‘take orders’ for the first three volumes [of Studies in the Scriptures] for 98c or the six volumes for $1.98. These orders would be delivered on ‘payday,’ usually the 1st or 15th of the month.”
Did you notice that Brother Mockridge mentioned using a “prospectus”? For years it was used by colporteurs and other Bible Students engaging in the house-to-house preaching work. This was an array of covers for six volumes of Millennial Dawn (Studies in the Scriptures), bound together in accordion fashion. At the door the colporteur stretched this out along his arm and gave a talk on the subject of each volume. He took orders and delivered the literature at a later time.
“Delivery days were hard,” admits Pearl Wright, “as a suitcase full of books was heavy to carry around.” It certainly was. Suppose a colporteur took orders for fifty volumes of Studies in the Scriptures. That number weighed forty pounds, a heavy load for women and even for a good many men. In time, however, colporteur James H. Cole invented a two-wheeled, nickel-plated attachment that could be affixed to a suitcase.
It “was an eye-catcher,” according to Anna E. Zimmerman, who tells us: “I recall one occasion when colporteuring in the town of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, that I had to wheel my suitcase right through the business section during the dinner hour. This I dreaded, but went right along rolling my suitcase by my side, when suddenly a well-dressed gentleman politely stepped up to me from the rear and, taking hold of the handle of my suitcase, asked: ‘Would you mind if I would roll this along for a little while? I would like to see how it goes. You seem to go along with it with such ease.’ Well, he rolled it the entire way through the business section and I did not have to do it at all. I learned he was the newspaper editor of the town.” The next day there was a detailed report in the local paper.
With unselfish motives, the faithful colporteurs labored diligently, depending upon Jehovah. And their efforts were rewarded. At times congregations developed as a result of colporteur activity. There were deep satisfactions and rich spiritual rewards. With joy Edythe Kessler and her sister Clara entered colporteur service back in 1907. They walked a lot, and there were many volumes to carry on “delivery day.” Yes, they got tired, but Edythe seems to speak for the faithful old-time colporteurs in general when she says: “We were young and happy in the service, delighted to expend our strength in serving Jah.”
‘NO WEAPON FORMED AGAINST YOU WILL SUCCEED’
During all the years that faithful colporteurs and other Bible Students zealously proclaimed the good news, Satan the Devil never relaxed his hand and halted efforts to crush and destroy them. He would have accomplished this, too, were it not for the divine protection they enjoyed. (1 Pet. 5:8, 9; Heb. 2:14) They realized the truthfulness of God’s promise to his people of ancient times: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn.”—Isa. 54:17.
Jesus Christ was persecuted, and his followers can expect the same treatment from practicers of false religion and the world in general. (John 15:20) Sometimes, however, Satan’s attack has been an internal one, originating with unscrupulous individuals within the Christian organization, stemming from incidents involving persons really “not of our sort.”—1 John 2:19.
It will be recalled that in the 1870’s C. T. Russell disassociated himself from N. H. Barbour, publisher of The Herald of the Morning. This he did because Barbour denied the Scriptural doctrine of the ransom, which Russell staunchly upheld. Then in the early 1890’s certain prominent persons in the organization unscrupulously tried to seize control of the Watch Tower Society. The conspirators planned to explode veritable “bombs” designed to end Russell’s popularity and bring about his finish as the Society’s president. After brewing for nearly two years, the conspiracy erupted in 1894. Mainly, the grievances and false charges centered around alleged dishonesty in business on the part of C. T. Russell. Indeed, some of the charges were very petty and betrayed the accusers’ basic intention—the defamation of C. T. Russell. Impartial fellow believers investigated matters and found Russell to be in the right. Hence, the conspirators’ plan to “blow Mr. Russell and his work sky-high” was a complete failure. Like the apostle Paul, Brother Russell had experienced trouble owing to “false brothers,” but this trial was recognized as a design of Satan, and the conspirators henceforth were viewed as unfit to enjoy Christian fellowship.—2 Cor. 11:26.
This, of course, was not the end of C. T. Russell’s trials and difficulties. He was yet to be touched in a very personal way, by circumstances arising in his own household. During the trouble in 1894, Mrs. C. T. Russell (the former Maria Frances Ackley, whom Russell had married in 1879) undertook a tour from New York to Chicago, meeting with Bible Students along the way and speaking in her husband’s behalf. Being an educated, intelligent woman, she was well received when visiting the congregations at that time.
Mrs. Russell was a director of the Watch Tower Society and served as its secretary and treasurer for some years. She also was a regular contributor to the columns of Zion’s Watch Tower and for a time was an associate editor of the journal. Eventually, she sought a stronger voice in what should be published in the Watch Tower. Such ambition was comparable to that of Moses’ sister Miriam, who rose up against her brother as leader of Israel under God and tried to make herself prominent—a course that met with divine disapproval.—Num. 12:1-15.
What had contributed to this attitude on Mrs. Russell’s part? “I was not aware of it at the time,” wrote C. T. Russell in 1906, “but learned subsequently that the conspirators endeavored to sow seeds of discord in my wife’s heart by flattery, ‘woman’s rights’ arguments, etc. However, when the shock came [in 1894], in the Lord’s providence I was spared the humiliation of seeing my wife amongst those conspirators. . . . As matters began to settle down, the ‘woman’s rights’ ideas and personal ambition began again to come to the top, and I perceived that Mrs. Russell’s active campaign in my defense, and the very cordial reception given her by the dear friends at that time throughout a journey . . . had done her injury by increasing her self-appreciation. . . . Gradually she seemed to reach the conclusion that nothing was just proper for the WATCH TOWER columns except what she had written, and I was continually harassed with suggestions of alterations of my writings. I was pained to note this growing disposition so foreign to the humble mind which characterized her for the first thirteen happy years.”
Mrs. Russell became very uncooperative, and strained relations continued. But early in 1897 she became ill and her husband gave her much attention. This he gave cheerfully and he felt that his kind care would touch her heart and restore it to its former loving and tender condition. When she recovered, however, Mrs. Russell called a committee and met with her husband “specially with the object of having the brethren instruct me that she had an equal right with myself in the WATCH TOWER columns, and that I was doing her wrong in not according her the liberties she desired,” wrote C. T. Russell. As matters turned out, though, she was told by the committee that neither they nor other persons had the right to interfere with her husband’s management of the Watch Tower. Mrs. Russell said, in substance, that though unable to agree with the committee, she would try to look at matters from their standpoint. Russell further reported: “I then asked her in their presence if she would shake hands. She hesitated, but finally gave me her hand. I then said, ‘Now, will you kiss me, dear, as a token of the degree of change of mind which you have indicated?’ Again she hesitated, but finally did kiss me and otherwise manifested a renewal of affection in the presence of her Committee.”
So the Russell’s ‘kissed and made up.’ Later, at Mrs. Russell’s request, her husband arranged for a weekly meeting of “The Sisters of the Allegheny Church,” with her as its leader. This led to further trouble—the circulating of slanderous remarks about C. T. Russell. However, this difficulty also was settled.
Eventually, though, growing resentment led Mrs. Russell to sever her relationship with the Watch Tower Society and with her husband. Without notice, she separated from him in 1897, after nearly eighteen years of marriage. For almost seven years she lived separately, C. T. Russell providing a separate home for her and also making financial provision for her support. In June 1903 Mrs. Russell filed in the Court of Common Pleas at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a suit for legal separation. During April 1906 the case came up for trial before Justice Collier and a jury. Nearly two years later, on March 4, 1908, a decree was issued that was styled “In Divorce.” The language of the decree is: “It is now ordered, adjudged and decreed that Maria F. Russell, the Libellant; and Charles T. Russell, the Respondent, be separated from bed and board.” “Separated from bed and board” is the language of both the decree and the docket entries made by the clerk of the court. This was a legalized separation and there never was an absolute divorce, as some erroneously have held. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (Banks-Baldwin Law Publishing Company, 1940) defines the action as “A partial or qualified divorce, by which the parties are separated and forbidden to live or cohabit together, without affecting the marriage itself. 1 Bl. Com. 440.” (Page 314) On page 312 it says that it “may more properly be termed a legal separation.”
C. T. Russell himself fully understood that the court did not grant an absolute divorce, but that this was a legalized separation. At Dublin, during a 1911 tour of Ireland, he was asked: “Is it true that you are divorced from your wife?” Of his answer, Russell wrote: “‘I am not divorced from my wife. The decree of the court was not divorce, but separation, granted by a sympathetic jury, which declared that we would both be happier separated. My wife’s charge was cruelty, but the only cruelty put in evidence was my refusal on one occasion to give her a kiss when she had requested it.’ I assured my audience that I disputed the charge of cruelty and believed that no woman was ever better treated by a husband. The applause showed that the audience believed my statements.”
What took place at C. T. Russell’s funeral at Pittsburgh in 1916 also is significant along these lines. Anna K. Gardner, whose recollections are similar to those of others present, tells us this: “An incident occurred just before the services at Carnegie Hall that refuted lies told in the paper about Brother Russell. The hall was filled long before the time for the services to begin and it was very quiet, and then a veiled figure was seen to walk up the aisle to the casket and to lay something on it. Up front one could see what it was—a bunch of lilies of the valley, Brother Russell’s favorite flower. There was a ribbon attached, saying, ‘To My Beloved Husband.’ It was Mrs. Russell. They had never been divorced and this was a public acknowledgment.”
One can but imagine the heartache and emotional strain C. T. Russell’s domestic trials brought upon him. In an undated handwritten letter to Mrs. Russell at one point in their marital difficulties, he wrote: “By the time this reaches you it will be just one week since you deserted the one whom before God and man you promised to love and obey and serve, ‘for better or for worse, until death do you part.’ Surely it is true that ‘experience is a wonderful teacher.’ Only it could have persuaded me thus of you, of whom I can truly say that at one time there could not have been a more loving and devoted helpmate. Had you been other than that I am confident that the Lord would not have given you to me. He doeth all things well. I still thank him for his providence toward me in that respect, and look back with sensations of pleasure to the time when you kissed me at least thirty times a day, and repeatedly told me that you did not see how you could live without me; and that you feared that I would die first . . . And I reflect that some of these evidences of love were given me only a year and a half ago, though for a year previous your love had been less fervent—because of jealousy and surmisings, notwithstanding my assurances of the ardor of my love for you, repeated a hundred times, and still asseverated.”
Russell did feel that the great Adversary then had a “very firm hold” on his wife. He said, “I have prayed earnestly to the Lord on your behalf,” and he also sought to aid her. Among other things, he wrote: “I will not burden you with accounts of my sorrow, nor attempt to work upon your sympathies by delineating my emotions, as I from time to time run across your dresses and other articles which bring vividly before my mind your former self—so full of love and sympathy and helpfulness—the spirit of Christ. My heart cries out, ‘Oh that I had buried her, or that she had buried me, in that happy time.’ But evidently the trials and testings were not sufficiently advanced. . . . Oh, do consider prayerfully what I am about to say. And be assured that the keen edge of my sorrow, its poignancy, is not my own loneliness for the remainder of life’s journey, but your fall, my dear, your everlasting loss, so far as I can see.”
As though the strain of Russell’s marital difficulties was not enough, his foes stooped to making scurrilous charges against him to the effect that he was immoral. These deliberate falsehoods centered around a so-called “jellyfish” story. During the trial in April 1906, Mrs. Russell testified that a certain Miss Ball told her that C. T. Russell had once said: “I am like a jellyfish. I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds I take her to me, and if not I float on to others.” On the witness stand C. T. Russell emphatically denied the “jellyfish” story, and all this matter was stricken from the court record, the judge saying in his charge to the jury: “This little incident about this girl that was in the family, that is beyond the ground of the libel and has nothing to do with the case.”
The girl in question came to the Russells in 1888 as an orphan about ten years old. They treated her as their own child and she kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when retiring. (Court Record, pages 90 and 91) Mrs. Russell testified that the alleged incident occurred in 1894, when this girl could not have been more than fifteen years old. (Court Record, page 15) After that Mrs. Russell lived with her husband for three years and was separated from him for about seven years more before filing suit for separation. In her bill for separation no reference was made to this matter. Though Miss Ball was then living and Mrs. Russell knew where, she made no attempt to procure her as a witness and presented no statement from her. C. T. Russell himself could not have had Miss Ball present to testify because he had no notice or intimation that his wife would bring such a matter into the case. Furthermore, three years after the alleged incident, when Mrs. Russell had called together a committee before whom she and her husband discussed certain differences, the “jellyfish” story was never even intimated. In the suit for separate maintenance, Mrs. Russell’s attorney had said: “We make no charge of adultery.” And that Mrs. Russell actually never believed her husband was guilty of immoral conduct was shown by the record (page 10). Her own counsel asked Mrs. Russell: “You don’t mean that your husband was guilty of adultery?” She answered: “No.”
Throughout the trialsome period of Charles Taze Russell’s domestic difficulties and the related hardships, Jehovah sustained him by means of the holy spirit. God continued to use Russell during those years, not only to write material for Zion’s Watch Tower, but to discharge other weighty duties and to pen three volumes of Millennial Dawn (or Studies in the Scriptures). How encouraging this is to Christians today as they go on doing the divine will though beset by various trials! Especially heartening to Jesus’ faithful anointed followers are these words of James: “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.”—Jas. 1:12.
Foes of C. T. Russell used not only his domestic affairs but other “weapons” against him. For instance, his enemies have charged that he sold a great quantity of ordinary wheat seed under the name of “Miracle Wheat” at one dollar per pound, or sixty dollars per bushel. They have held that from this Russell realized an enormous personal profit. However, these charges are absolutely false. What are the facts?
In 1904 Mr. K. B. Stoner noticed an unusual plant growing in his garden in Fincastle, Virginia. It turned out to be wheat of an uncommon kind. The plant had 142 stalks and each bore a head of fully matured wheat. In 1906 he named it “Miracle Wheat.” Eventually others obtained and grew it, enjoying extraordinary yields. In fact, Miracle Wheat won prizes at several fairs. C. T. Russell was very interested in anything related to the Biblical predictions that “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” and “the earth shall yield her increase.” (Isa. 35:1; Ezek. 34:27, AV) On November 23, 1907, H. A. Miller, Assistant Agriculturalist of the United States Government, filed in the Department of Agriculture a report commending this wheat grown by Mr. Stoner. Throughout the country the public press took note of the report. C. T. Russell’s attention was drawn to it, and so in Zion’s Watch Tower of March 15, 1908, on page 86, he published some press comments and extracts from the government report. Then, in conclusion, he commented: “If this account be but one-half true it testifies afresh to God’s ability to provide things needful for the ‘times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began.’—Acts 3:19-21.”
Mr. Stoner was not a Bible Student or an associate of C. T. Russell, and neither were various other persons who experimented with Miracle Wheat. In 1911, however, Watch Tower readers J. A. Bohnet of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Samuel J. Fleming of Wabash, Indiana, presented to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society the aggregate of about thirty bushels of this wheat, proposing that it be sold for one dollar per pound and that all the proceeds be received by the Society as a donation from them, to be used in its religious work. The wheat was received and sent out by the Society and the gross receipts from it amounted to about $1,800. Russell himself did not get a penny of this money. He merely published a statement in The Watch Tower to the effect that the wheat had been contributed and could be obtained for a dollar a pound. The Society itself made no claim for the wheat on its own knowledge and the money received went as a donation into Christian missionary work. When others criticized this sale, all who had contributed were informed that if they were dissatisfied their money would be returned. In fact, the identical money received for the wheat was held for a year for that purpose. But not one person asked for a refund. The conduct of Brother Russell and the Society in connection with Miracle Wheat was completely open and aboveboard.
Because Charles Taze Russell taught the truth from God’s Word, he was hated and maligned, often by the religious clergy. But then, Christians of modern times expect such treatment, for Jesus and his apostles were dealt with similarly by religious opposers.—Luke 7:34.
“JEHOVAH WILL NOT DESERT HIS PEOPLE”
Jehovah is a faithful God. The prophet Samuel counseled the people of Israel to serve God with all their heart, and declared: “Jehovah will not desert his people for the sake of his great name, because Jehovah has taken it upon himself to make you his people.”—1 Sam. 12:20-25.
The Bible Students certainly found this to be true in their case. Some of their experiences during the years 1914 through 1916, for instance, brought disappointment and sorrow. Yet, Jehovah upheld his people, never forsaking them.—1 Cor. 10:13.
At that time there also were reasons for rejoicing. For years God’s people had pointed forward to 1914 as the year that would mark the end of the Gentile Times. Their expectations did not lead to disappointment. On July 28, 1914, World War I erupted, and as time marched on toward October 1 more and more nations and empires got involved. As Jehovah’s Christian witnesses know from their Scriptural studies, the period of uninterrupted Gentile world rule ended in 1914, with the birth of God’s heavenly kingdom with Jesus Christ as king. (Rev. 12:1-5) But there also were other expectations regarding 1914. Concerning these, Brother A. H. Macmillan wrote in his book Faith on the March: “On August 23, 1914, as I well recall, Pastor Russell started on a trip to the Northwest, down the Pacific coast and over into the Southern states, and then ending at Saratoga Springs, New York, where we held a convention September 27-30. That was a highly interesting time because a few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October.”
The idea of going to heaven in 1914 was strong among some Bible Students. “Our thought,” remarks Sister Dwight T. Kenyon, “was that the war would go into revolution and into anarchy. Then those of the anointed or the consecrated at that time would die and be glorified. One night I dreamed that the whole ecclesia (congregation) was on a train going somewhere. There was thunder and lightning, and all at once the friends began dying all around me. I thought that was all right, but try as I would, I couldn’t die. This was quite upsetting! Then all at once I died and felt so relieved and satisfied. I tell this just to show how sure we were that all was going to end soon as far as this old world was concerned and that the remnant of the ‘little flock’ was to be glorified.—Luke 12:32.”
Hazelle and Helen Krull recall that during 1914 discussions at the Bethel dining table often centered on the end of the Gentile Times. From time to time, they say, Brother Russell made extended remarks, urging faithfulness and explaining that the time features had been reviewed and still seemed accurate, but also that “if we were expecting more than what the Scriptures warranted, then we must bow to Jehovah’s will and adjust our minds and hearts in faith to His way, still faithfully watching and waiting for the outworking of associated events.”
An incident at the Saratoga Springs convention in 1914 highlights Brother Macmillan’s view of “going home” to heaven in that year. He wrote: “Wednesday (September 30) I was invited to talk on the subject, ‘The End of All Things Is at Hand; Therefore Let Us Be Sober, Watchful and Pray.’ Well, as one would say, that was down my road. I believed it myself sincerely—that the church was ‘going home’ in October. During that discourse I made this unfortunate remark: ‘This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver because we shall be going home soon.’”
The next morning, October 1, 1914, about five hundred Bible Students enjoyed a lovely ride down the Hudson River on a steamer from Albany to New York. On Sunday the conventioners were to open sessions in Brooklyn, where the assembly would end. Quite a few delegates stayed at Bethel, and, of course, members of the headquarters staff were present at the breakfast table on Friday morning, October 2. Everyone was seated when Brother Russell entered. As usual, he said cheerily, “Good morning, all.” But this particular morning was different. Instead of proceeding promptly to his seat, he clapped his hands and joyfully announced: “The Gentile times have ended; their kings have had their day.” “How we clapped our hands!” exclaims Cora Merrill. Brother Macmillan admitted: “We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward—but of course there was nothing like that, really.” Sister Merrill adds: “After a brief pause he [Russell] said: ‘Anyone disappointed? I’m not. Everything is moving right on schedule!’ Again we clapped our hands.”
C. T. Russell made some remarks, but it was not long before A. H. Macmillan became the object of attention. Good-naturedly, Russell said: “We are going to make some changes in the program for Sunday. At 10:30 Sunday morning Brother Macmillan will give us an address.” That brought hearty laughter from everyone. After all, just that past Wednesday Brother Macmillan had given what he thought would probably be his “last public address.” “Well,” wrote A.H. Macmillan years later, “then I had to get busy to find something to say. I found Psalm 74:9, ‘We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.’ Now that was different. In that talk I tried to show the friends that perhaps some of us had been a bit too hasty in thinking that we were going to heaven right away, and the thing for us to do would be to keep busy in the Lord’s service until he determined when any of his approved servants would be taken home to heaven.”
C. T. Russell himself had warned against private speculations. For instance, he discussed the end of the Gentile Times and then said in The Watch Tower of December 1, 1912: “Finally, let us remember that we did not consecrate [dedicate] either to October, 1914, nor to October, 1915, or to any other date, but ‘unto death.’ If for any reason the Lord has permitted us to miscalculate the prophecies, the signs of the times assure us that the miscalculations cannot be very great. And if the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the future as in the past, according to His promise, we shall rejoice equally to go or to remain at any time, and to be in His service, either on this side the veil or on the other side [on earth or in heaven], as may please our Master best.”
Even as the climactic year 1914 began, Russell wrote in The Watch Tower of January 1: “We may not read the time features with the same absolute certainty as doctrinal features; for time is not so definitely stated in the Scriptures as are the basic doctrines. We are still walking by faith and not by sight. We are, however, not faithless and unbelieving, but faithful and waiting. If later it should be demonstrated that the Church is not glorified by October, 1914, we shall try to feel content with whatever the Lord’s will may be.”
So, there were great expectations concerning 1914 on the part of many of the Bible Students. Yet, they also had received sound admonition in pages of The Watch Tower. Indeed, some Christians thought they were ‘going home’ to heaven in the autumn of that year. “But,” says C. J. Woodworth, “October 1st, 1914, came and went—and years accumulated after that date—and the anointed were still here on earth. Some grew sour and fell away from the truth. Those who put their trust in Jehovah saw 1914 as truly a marked time—the ‘beginning of the end’—but they also realized their previous concept was wrong concerning the ‘glorification of the saints,’ as it was stated. They now perceived that much work yet remained for the faithful anointed ones—and of that group my father [Clayton J. Woodworth] was one.”
But disappointments about going to heaven in 1914 really were very minor, compared with the great expectations realized in connection with that year. During the first six months of 1914, nothing happened to the Gentile nations, though the Bible Students long had pointed out that the Gentile Times would expire in that year. Hence, religious leaders and others ridiculed C. T. Russell and the Watch Tower Society. Yet, Jehovah certainly had not forsaken his people or allowed them to be misled. Moved by his holy spirit, they carried on their witness work, not expecting the end of the Gentile Times until autumn of that year. As the months wore on, tension increased throughout Europe, and still ridicule against the Kingdom message was mounting. When nation after nation became enmeshed in the first world war, however, there was a difference. The work of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses was brought prominently into view.
A typical press reaction of the time appeared in The World, then a leading New York city newspaper. Its Sunday magazine section of August 30, 1914, contained the article “End of All Kingdoms in 1914.” There it was stated, in part:
“The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students,’ best known as ‘Millennial Dawners,’ have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of travelling evangelists who, representing this strange creed, have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ . . .
“Rev. Charles T. Russell is the man who has been propounding this interpretation of the Scriptures since 1874. . . . ‘In view of this strong Bible evidence,’ Rev. Russell wrote in 1889, ‘we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914.’ . . .
“But to say that the trouble must culminate in 1914—that was peculiar. For some strange reason, perhaps because Rev. Russell has a very calm, higher mathematics style of writing instead of flamboyant soap box manners, the world in general has scarcely taken him into account. The students over in his ‘Brooklyn Tabernacle’ say that this was to be expected, that the world never did listen to divine warnings and never will, until after the day of trouble is past. . . .
“And in 1914 comes war, the war which everybody dreaded but which everybody thought could not really happen. Rev. Russell is not saying ‘I told you so’; and he is not revising the prophecies to suit the current history. He and his students are content to wait—to wait until October, which they figure to be the real end of 1914.”
True, the Bible Students were not ‘taken home’ to heaven in October 1914. But the 2,520-year-long Gentile Times then ended. And, as Jehovah’s servants later realized more fully, they had plenty of work to do after that time right here on earth in preaching the good news of God’s established kingdom. Evidently many would yet respond favorably to Bible truth. Regarding this, Russell wrote in The Watch Tower of February 15, 1915: “There are certain indications that the Lord has a great work for all His people, His watching saints, at the present time. . . . There are some of the Lord’s children who seem possessed with the idea that ‘the door is shut,’ and that there is no further opportunity for service. So they become indolent in regard to the Lord’s work. We should lose no time dreaming that the door is shut! There are people who are seeking the Truth—people who are sitting in darkness. There never was a time like the present. Never have so many people been ready to hear the good Message. In all the forty years of Harvest there have not been such opportunities to proclaim the Truth as now present themselves. The great war and the ominous signs of the times are waking people up, and many are now inquiring. So the Lord’s people should be very diligent, doing with their might what their hands find to do.”
“THERE IS A GREAT WORK AHEAD”
In essence, then, God’s people were told to remain steadfast and ‘have plenty to do in the work of the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 15:58) Further indicating that Brother Russell was convinced that there was a great work ahead for Jehovah’s servants was an incident related years later by A. H. Macmillan. C. T. Russell always spent his mornings, from 8:00 a.m. until noon, preparing Watch Tower articles and engaging in other writing and Bible research. Macmillan wrote: “Nobody ever went near the study during those hours unless they were sent for or had something very important. About five minutes after eight, a stenographer came running down the stairs and said to me: ‘Brother Russell wants to see you in the study.’ I thought, ‘What have I been doing now?’ To be called to the study in the morning meant there was something important.” Listen to Brother Macmillan’s further account:
“I went to the study and he said: ‘Come in, brother. Please walk into the drawing room.’ It was an extension of the study. He said: ‘Brother, are you as deeply interested in the truth as you were when you began?’ I looked surprised. He said: ‘Don’t be surprised. That was just a leading question.’ Then he described to me his physical condition, and I knew enough about physical diagnosis to know that he would not live very many more months unless he had some relief. He said: ‘Well, now, brother, what I wanted to tell you is this. I am not able to carry on the work any longer, and yet there is a great work to be done. . . .
“I said: ‘Brother Russell, what you are talking about doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make good sense.’
“‘What do you mean, brother?’ he asked.
“‘Your dying and this work going on?’ I replied. ‘Why, when you die we will all complacently fold our arms and wait to go to heaven with you. We will quit then.’
“‘Brother,’ he said, ‘if that is your idea, you don’t see the issue. This is not man’s work. I am not important to this work. The light is getting brighter. There is a great work ahead.’ . . .
“After outlining the work ahead, Brother Russell said: ‘Now, what I want is someone who will come in here to take the responsibility from me. I’ll still direct the work, but I’m not able to attend to it as I have in the past.’ So we discussed various persons. Finally, when I left and passed through a sliding door into the hallway, he said: ‘Just a minute. You go to your room and talk to the Lord on this matter and come and tell me if Brother Macmillan will accept this job.’ He closed the door without my saying anything more. Well, I think I stood there half dazed. What could I do to assist Brother Russell in this work? It required a man that would have some business abilities about him, and all I knew was how to preach religion. However, I thought it over and came back later and said to him: ‘Brother, I’ll do anything that I possibly can. I don’t care where you put me.’”
Convinced that there was so much work ahead for God’s people, C. T. Russell told his close associates to prepare for a growth in their numbers. He made certain changes that would draw the organization together, and recommended future changes in the event that he could not carry them out personally. A. H. Macmillan was placed in charge of the office and the Bethel home. Then, despite Russell’s rapidly failing health and extreme physical discomfort by autumn of 1916, he set out on a previously arranged lecture tour.
A FINAL JOURNEY
Departing from New York on October 16, 1916, Brother Russell and his secretary, Menta Sturgeon, traveled to Detroit, Michigan, by way of Canada. The two men then went on to Chicago, Illinois, down through Kansas and on into Texas. His condition of health was such that his secretary had to substitute for him at several speaking engagements. On Tuesday evening, October 24, at San Antonio, Texas, Russell delivered his last public talk, on the subject “The World on Fire.” During this discourse he had to leave the platform three times, while his secretary filled in for him.
Tuesday night, Brother Russell and his secretary and traveling associate were aboard a train en route to California. A sick man, Russell remained in bed all day Wednesday. At one point, taking the ailing man’s hand, Russell’s traveling associate said: “That is the greatest creed-smashing hand I ever saw!” Russell replied that he did not think it would smash any more creeds.
The two men were detained one day at Del Rio, Texas, because a bridge had been burned and another had to be erected. They pulled out of Del Rio on Thursday morning. On Friday night they changed trains at a junction point in California. All day Saturday Russell was in severe pain and experiencing great weakness. They arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 29, and there that evening C. T. Russell gave his last talk to a congregation. By that time he was so weak that he was unable to stand for the discourse. “I regret that I am not able to speak with force or power,” said Russell. He then beckoned to the chairman to remove the stand and bring a chair, saying as he sat down, “Pardon me for sitting down, please.” He spoke for about forty-five minutes, then answered to questions for a short time. Dwight T. Kenyon says of that occasion: “I had the privilege of attending Brother Russell’s last talk in Los Angeles on October 29, 1916. He was very ill and remained seated during his discourse on Zechariah 13:7-9. How his good-bye text, Numbers 6:24-26, impressed me!”
Realizing that his severe condition would not allow him to go on, Russell decided to cancel the rest of his speaking appointments and return quickly to the Bethel home in Brooklyn. On Tuesday, October 31, C. T. Russell was on the verge of death. At Panhandle, Texas, a physician summoned earlier by telegraph temporarily boarded the train and observed Russell’s condition, recognizing the critical symptoms. Then the train was under way again. Shortly thereafter, in early afternoon of Tuesday, October 31, 1916, sixty-four-year-old Charles Taze Russell died at Pampa, Texas.
‘GOD STILL AT THE HELM’
Charles Taze Russell’s many trials, preaching activities, writing responsibilities and other duties had drawn greatly on his vitality. For about thirty-two years he had served as president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Reportedly, he traveled more than a million miles as a public speaker, preaching over 30,000 sermons. He wrote literature totaling more than 50,000 pages, often dictated a thousand letters a month, while managing a world-encircling evangelistic campaign that at one time employed 700 speakers. Furthermore, Russell personally compiled the most informative Biblical drama ever exhibited, the Photo-Drama of Creation.
Since Brother Russell had played such a prominent role in the work of declaring the good news, he was missed greatly by many Bible Students. “When I read the telegram regarding his death to the Bethel family at breakfast the next morning,” said A. H. Macmillan, “there were moans all over the dining room.” Among God’s people in general there were mixed reactions. Arden Pate, who, incidentally, was an attendant at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio when C. T. Russell gave his last public talk, observes: “Some said, ‘That’s the end of it,’ and for them it was because they didn’t see Jehovah leading his people, but they looked too much to one man.” At Russell’s funeral services on Sunday, November 5, 1916, in the New York City Temple, a number of his close associates spoke of the great loss. However, there were also exhortations to continued faithfulness. Separate services were held at the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh (Allegheny), Pennsylvania, beginning at 2 p.m. on November 6, with interment in the Bethel Family plot of the Rosemont United Cemeteries, Allegheny, at dusk of that day.
During the morning funeral service in New York city, A. H. Macmillan told about the talk Brother Russell had with him shortly before his death, mentioning also certain steps Russell took in connection with the work at the Society’s headquarters. Then, among other things, Macmillan declared: “The work before us is great, but the Lord will give us the necessary grace and strength to perform it. . . . some faint-hearted workers may think the time has come to lay down our harvesting instruments and wait until the Lord calls us home. This is not the time for slackers to be heard. This is a time for action—more determined action than ever before!”
Nearing the conclusion of his discourse at the evening service, J. F. Rutherford said: “My beloved brethren—we who are here, and all who are in the earth—what shall we do? Shall we slacken our zeal for the cause of our Lord and King? No! By his grace we will increase our zeal and energy, to finish our course with joy. We will not fear nor falter, but will stand shoulder to shoulder, contending for the faith, rejoicing in our privilege of proclaiming the Message of his Kingdom.”
Noteworthy, too, were the remarks of the Society’s secretary-treasurer, W. E. Van Amburgh. At Russell’s services, he stated: “This great worldwide work is not the work of one person. It is far too great for that. It is God’s work and it changes not. God has used many servants in the past and He will doubtless use many in the future. Our consecration is not to a man, or to a man’s work, but to do the will of God, as He shall reveal it unto us through His Word and providential leadings. God is still at the helm.”
For God’s people those were difficult days, indeed. Yet, they looked to Jehovah for aid. (Ps. 121:1-3) God would raise up others to carry major responsibilities in his organization. The preaching work would go on.
Jehovah’s servants had just passed through a trying time, but years of crisis were ahead of them. With the death of C. T. Russell on October 31, 1916, the Watch Tower Society lacked a president. Until its annual meeting on January 6, 1917, an executive committee managed the Society’s affairs. During that period, of course, the question of who would be the next president arose. One day Brother Van Amburgh asked A. H. Macmillan: “Brother, what do you think about it?” “There is only one person, whether you like it or not,” replied Macmillan. “There is only one man who can take charge of this work now, and that is Brother Rutherford.” Taking Macmillan’s hand Brother Van Amburgh said: “I’m with you.” J. F. Rutherford knew nothing about this and did no electioneering for votes. But at the Society’s annual meeting on January 6, 1917, he was nominated and elected as the president of the Watch Tower Society.
Humbly assuming his new responsibility, Brother Rutherford spoke briefly on that occasion, requesting the “united prayers, deep sympathy and unqualified cooperation” of his fellow believers. He assured them: “He who has thus far led us will continue to lead us. Let us have brave hearts, ready minds and willing hands, trusting implicitly always in the Lord, looking to Him for guidance. He will lead us to certain victory. Renewing our Covenant with Him today, united in the holy bonds of Christian love, may we go forth proclaiming to the world, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’”
Rutherford himself was a courageous fighter for the truth. He was born of Baptist parents in Morgan County, Missouri, on November 8, 1869. From Sister Ross, the elder natural sister of Joseph Franklin Rutherford, A. D. Schroeder learned this: “Their father was a staunch Baptist out in Missouri where the family lived. Her younger brother Joseph never could accept the Baptist ‘hellfire’ teaching. This resulted in many heated debates in the household even before they had heard of the truth. Her brother always had been one of strong convictions with a deep sense of justice. From youth he wanted to be a lawyer and a judge. Their father wanted him to stay on the farm rather than go to college to study law. Joseph had to get a friend who would loan him money, not only to hire a replacement for him on his father’s farm, but also to finance his studies in law.”
Joseph Rutherford paid his own way through school. Among other things, he became an expert at taking shorthand, a skill very useful years later in quickly recording his thoughts for Biblical articles and other material. While still in school, Joseph Rutherford became a court stenographer. This enabled him to finish paying for his course and also gave him practical experience. After completing his academy education, Rutherford spent two years under the tutelage of Judge E. L. Edwards. At twenty years of age, Joseph Rutherford became the official reporter for the courts of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit in Missouri. When twenty-two, he was admitted to the Missouri bar. His license to practice law in that state was granted on May 5, 1892, according to the records of the Cooper Circuit Court. Rutherford began practicing law at Boonville, Missouri, as a trial lawyer with the law firm of Draffen and Wright.
J. F. Rutherford later served for four years as public prosecutor in Boonville, Missouri. Still later he became a special judge in the same Fourteenth Judicial District of Missouri. In this capacity, if the regular judge was unable to hold court, Rutherford sat as a substitute judge. Court records substantiate his appointment as a special judge on more than one occasion. Hence, he came to be known as “Judge” Rutherford.
Hazelle and Helen Krull remember hearing J. F. Rutherford tell how he first became interested in the truth proclaimed by Jehovah’s servants. They tell us: “During one of Brother Rutherford’s visits he suggested a walk in the moonlight out into the countryside. As we walked, he talked, telling of his early life and how he became interested in the truth. He was brought up on a farm but he wanted to study law. His father felt the need of his help on the farm but finally consented to let him go if he paid his own way in school and also paid for a helper on the farm to take his place. During summer vacation time he sold books in order to live up to his agreement. . . . He made a promise to himself that when he became a practicing lawyer, if anyone ever came to his office selling books he would buy them. That day came [in 1894], but his law partner talked to the caller. She was a ‘colporteur’—Sister Elizabeth Hettenbaugh—and was presenting three volumes of Millennial Dawn. His partner was not interested and dismissed her [and her associate colporteur, Sister Beeler]. Brother Rutherford, emerging from his private office, having overheard something about books and remembering his resolve, called her back, took the books and placed them in his library at home and there they remained for a while. One day as he was convalescing from a sick spell he opened one of the books and started to read. That was the beginning of a lifelong interest and a never-ceasing devotion and service to his God.”
Meetings of the Bible Students were not held in the immediate vicinity of the Rutherford home. However, Clarence B. Beaty says: “From 1904 on, meetings were held in our home. Sister Rutherford and Judge Rutherford came up from Boonville, Missouri, for the Memorial [of Christ’s death]. . . . He partook of his first Memorial and gave his first pilgrim talk to the friends in our home. They had no one in the truth in Boonville except themselves.”
But how did J. F. Rutherford get started as a preacher of the good news? Well, A. H. Macmillan largely was responsible for that. Macmillan met Rutherford in 1905 at Kansas City during a trip across the United States with Brother Russell. A little later Brother Macmillan stopped to visit Judge Rutherford for a day or two. One conversation between them went like this:
“Judge, you ought to be preaching the truth here.”
“I’m not a preacher. I’m a lawyer.”
“Well, now, Judge, I’ll show you what you can do. You go and get a copy of the Holy Bible and a small group of people, and teach them about life, death and the hereafter. Show them where we got our life, why we came into the condition of death and what death means. Take the Scriptures as a witness, and then wind up by saying, ‘There I have fulfilled everything like I said,’ just as you would to the jury in a court trial, and drive it home in conclusion.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
What happened after that? Did Rutherford do anything about that advice? Brother Macmillan reported: “There was a colored man that worked on a little farm that was next to his city home, close to the edge of town. About fifteen or twenty colored people were there, and he went over there to give them a sermon on ‘Life, Death and the Hereafter.’ While he was talking they kept saying, ‘Praise the Lord, Judge! Where did you get all that?’ He had a great time. That was the first Bible talk he ever gave.”
Not long thereafter, in 1906, J. F. Rutherford symbolized his dedication to Jehovah God. Wrote Brother Macmillan: “I had the privilege of baptizing him at Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was one of 144 persons that I personally baptized in water that day. So when he became president of the Society, I was especially pleased.”
In 1907 Rutherford became the Watch Tower Society’s legal counselor, serving at its Pittsburgh headquarters. He was privileged to negotiate matters when the Society transferred its operations to Brooklyn, New York, in 1909. To do this, he made application and was admitted to the New York bar, becoming a recognized lawyer for that state. On May 24 of the same year, Rutherford was also admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
J. F. Rutherford frequently gave discourses as a pilgrim, a traveling representative of the Watch Tower Society. He journeyed widely as a Bible lecturer in the United States, speaking in many colleges and universities by request, and he also addressed large audiences throughout Europe. Rutherford visited Egypt and Palestine, and in 1913, accompanied by his wife, he traveled to Germany, where he addressed audiences totaling 18,000.
Jesus Christ said that all his followers were “brothers” and that ‘the one greatest among them must be their minister.’ (Matt. 23:8-12) Hence, no true Christian accords any fellow believer undue importance. Yet, the Bible reveals the traits of various servants of God. Moses, for example, was noted for meekness; James and John, the sons of Zebedee, for their fiery enthusiasm. (Num. 12:3; Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54) Since Joseph F. Rutherford was entrusted with much responsibility in God’s earthly organization, it is of some interest to note his traits and qualities.
“Rutherford had always manifested a deep Christian love for his associates,” said A. H. Macmillan, “and was very kindhearted; but he was not naturally of the same gentle, quiet-mannered disposition as Russell. He was direct and outspoken and did not hide his feelings. His bluntness, even when spoken in kindness, was sometimes misunderstood. But he had been president only a short time when it became apparent that the Lord had chosen the right man for the job.”
Further insight into Rutherford’s personality is gained from what took place in the Bible Students’ old London Tabernacle when he gave the Memorial talk there on April 18, 1924. Concerning this, Sister William P. Heath writes: “The Tabernacle was an old Episcopalian church that the Society had bought cheap, and they used it for Sunday meetings as we use a Kingdom Hall today. . . . The place for the speaker was way up at the ceiling, about twenty feet off the floor. Only his head would be visible when addressing the audience. Maybe this is why Brother Rutherford called it the ‘horse trough.’ He refused to speak from it; in fact, he shocked the brothers by coming down and standing on a level with them.”
When Brother Rutherford first assumed the presidency of the Watch Tower Society, there was a need for courage, faithfulness and determination. He manifested such qualities. For instance, Esther I. Morris recalls a talk Rutherford gave before a large audience as a pilgrim in what was then the biggest theater in Boise, Idaho. She states: “His exposé of false religion aroused the ire of several local clergymen, who tried to interrupt and challenge him, but his emphatic ‘Sit down! I demand the protection of the law!’ made him able to continue. Bible Students from adjacent towns came and we hired a hall and so had a small convention. He was most emphatic to let it be known that this message and ministry was no small thing.”
A rather touching reflection on Brother Rutherford’s nature is provided by Anna Elsdon. Recalling her youth, she writes: “We visited many times with Brother Rutherford. On one occasion several of us younger people were gathered together and Brother Rutherford came over to us. We asked many questions about school, flag-saluting, etc., and he talked to us a long time. When he was ready to say good-bye, he held the hands of all five of us in his two big hands so lovingly and he had tears in his eyes. He was so happy and touched to see us, so young and yet talking about the deep things of the truth. I’ve never forgotten it. Just as Brother Russell was loving, we also felt the love of this big Brother Rutherford.”
ON WITH THE WORK!
Brother Rutherford was determined to press on with the work of Kingdom-preaching. For years, under the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit, the Bible Students had carried on a remarkably extensive campaign in declaring God’s truth. Why, from 1870 through 1913 they had distributed 228,255,719 tracts and pamphlets and 6,950,292 bound books. In the momentous year 1914 alone Jehovah’s servants put out 71,285,037 tracts and pamphlets and 992,845 bound books. The years 1915 and 1916, however, saw a decline in publishing activities because of the expanding of World War I and the breakdown of communications. In 1917, though, the work began showing an upward trend. Why?
The Society’s new president promptly reorganized the headquarters office in Brooklyn. Furthermore, he acted to revitalize the field work. These changes, however, and the programs he stepped up were those that C. T. Russell had begun. Pilgrim representatives of the Society were increased from sixty-nine to ninety-three. Distribution of free tracts was accelerated on occasional Sundays in front of the churches and regularly from house to house. A new four-page tract, The Bible Students Monthly, was published and in 1917 alone 28,665,000 free copies were distributed.
Also stepped up was a new activity started prior to C. T. Russell’s death. Called the “Pastoral Work,” it was a forerunner of the return visits now made by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. In Russell’s time this activity was limited to about 500 congregations that had voluntarily elected him as their pastor. In a letter to these he described the undertaking as “an important Follow-up Work possible in connection with addresses received at Public Meetings, DRAMA Exhibitions, from Colporteur Lists, etc.—persons who supposedly have some interest in religious matters and who presumably would be more or less amenable to the Truth.”
Women in the congregation who were interested in performing this work elected one of their number to serve as a lieutenant and another as secretary-treasurer. A city was divided into territorial districts, assigned to individual sisters who called on all whose names had been supplied as interested persons. The callers loaned books, which could be read and studied by the borrower. “Then none had the excuse, ‘I have no money,’ as it was a free loan,” remarks Esther I. Morris. At the call’s conclusion the householder was told that a chart talk on the “Divine Plan” would soon be given in the district, and those manifesting interest were encouraged to attend. Afterward follow-up calls were made on individuals attending, in an effort to begin a study in the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” So the culmination of the program was to gather persons into “classes,” first to hear chart talks and later to become regular groups called “Berean Classes.”—Acts 17:10, 11.
Other steps were taken by the Society’s new president, J. F. Rutherford, to revitalize the preaching work. The colporteur service was expanded. This brought the total up from 373 to 461 colporteurs. To assist them, in early 1917 the Society began issuing a paper called “Bulletin.” It contained periodic service instructions from headquarters. Later, after October 1922, the Bulletin became available monthly to the Bible Students in general. (Eventually it was named “Director,” then “Informant” and thereafter “Kingdom Ministry.”) Sister H. Gambill says that, in time, “it had prepared testimonies which we called ‘canvasses’ that we were encouraged to memorize to use in field service. My sister-in-law . . . would follow me all over from room to room trying to get every word just exact. She so wanted to get it just right.” Reflecting on the fact that the Bulletin contained prepared testimonies, Elizabeth Elrod says: “I appreciated this, for we did not have an arrangement, as we now have, of a person going along with another to train and help one to become an effective publisher. This unified the message going out.”
As the rejuvenation campaign continued, other steps were taken by the Society’s new administration back in 1917. For instance, a number of regional conventions were held. These were designed to encourage the Bible Students to press on with their work and not become weary in well-doing.
Just before 1914 C. T. Russell placed emphasis on a public speaking program. Now it was time to arrange for further qualified speakers to represent the Watch Tower Society from the public platform. How was this done? The program used was the V. D. M. arrangement. These letters stood for the Latin words Verbi Dei Minister, meaning “Minister of the Word of God.” The program consisted of a questionnaire made available to both men and women associated with congregations of Bible Students.
Here are some sample questions appearing on the V.D.M. questionnaire. How well could you answer them? (1) What was the first creative act of God? (4) What is the divine penalty for sin upon the sinners? and who are the sinners? (6) Of what nature was the Man Christ Jesus from infancy to death? (7) Of what nature is Jesus since the resurrection; and what is his official relation to Jehovah? (13) What will be the reward or blessings which will come to the world of mankind through obedience to Messiah’s kingdom? (16) Have you turned from sin to serve the living God? (17) Have you made a full consecration of your life and all your powers and talents to the Lord and his service? (18) Have you symbolized this consecration by water immersion? (22) Do you believe you have a substantial and permanent knowledge of the Bible which will render you more efficient as a servant of the Lord throughout the remainder of your life?
Those submitting their answers to the Society’s V. D. M. department received a reply that included “some kindly suggestions and hints” respecting their answers. Among other things, it was desired that the questions be answered by individuals in their own words.
Explaining matters a little further, George E. Hannan writes: “These questions were to serve as a guide in determining how well an individual understood the basic doctrines of the Bible. Any dedicated person who obtained an 85-percent rating was considered qualified to teach. All such brothers were qualified to give public talks and chart talks. These questions encouraged all who associated with the Society to read the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, looking up all the Scriptural references.”
So it was that, as the new president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford took immediate steps to accelerate the work of preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. Blessings followed. The year 1917 witnessed increased field activity to the praise of Jehovah God.
“DO NOT BE PUZZLED AT THE BURNING AMONG YOU”
Not all persons within the organization, however, were happy when J. F. Rutherford was elected president. In fact, beginning early in 1917, several individuals ambitiously sought to gain administrative control of the Society. They became very uncooperative, and thus a period of fiery testing began. Of course, Christians expect to be opposed and persecuted by worldly foes. But trials that originate within the Christian organization itself often are unexpected and are more difficult to bear. Yet, with divine aid all such hardships can be borne. Peter told fellow believers: “Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among you, which is happening to you for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling you. On the contrary, go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ.”—1 Pet. 4:12, 13.
Jehovah and his “messenger of the covenant,” Jesus Christ, came to inspect the spiritual temple in 1918 C.E. Judgment then began with the “house of God” and a period of refining and cleansing commenced. (Mal. 3:1-3; 1 Pet. 4:17) Something else also occurred. Men manifesting the marks of an “evil slave” came forward and figuratively began ‘beating’ their fellow slaves. Jesus Christ had foretold how such ones would be dealt with. At the same time he showed that a “faithful and discreet slave” class would be in evidence, dispensing spiritual food.—Matt. 24:45-51.
The identity of the “faithful and discreet slave,” or “faithful and wise servant” (King James Version), was a matter of quite some concern back in those years. Much earlier, in 1881, C. T. Russell wrote: “We believe that every member of this body of Christ is engaged in the blessed work, either directly or indirectly, of giving meat in due season to the household of faith. ‘Who then is that faithful and wise servant whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household,’ to give them meat in due season? Is it not that ‘little flock’ of consecrated servants who are faithfully carrying out their consecration vows—the body of Christ—and is not the whole body individually and collectively, giving the meat in due season to the household of faith—the great company of believers?”
So it was understood that the “servant” God used to dispense spiritual food was a class. With the passing of time, however, the idea adopted by many was that C. T. Russell himself was the “faithful and wise servant.” This led some into the snare of creature worship. They felt that all the truth God saw fit to reveal to his people had been presented through Brother Russell, that nothing more could be brought forth. Annie Poggensee writes: “This caused a great sifting out of those who chose to stay back with Russell’s works.” In February 1927 this erroneous thought that Russell himself was the “faithful and wise servant” was cleared up.
Shortly after Brother Rutherford became president of the Watch Tower Society, a real conspiracy developed. The seed of rebellion was planted and then the trouble spread, as explained below.
C. T. Russell had seen the need to send someone from headquarters to Britain to strengthen the Bible Students there after the outbreak of World War I. He intended to send Paul S. L. Johnson, a Jew who forsook Judaism and became a Lutheran minister before coming to a knowledge of God’s truth. Johnson had served as one of the Society’s traveling speakers and was well known for his ability. Out of respect for Russell’s wish, the executive committee that served for a short time before Rutherford’s election as president sent Johnson to England, giving him certain papers that would facilitate entry into that country. He was to learn all he could about the work in England and then make a full report to the Society, but he was to make no personnel changes at the British headquarters. However, his reception in England during November 1916 seemed to warp his judgment and finally his reason, “until,” as A. H. Macmillan stated, “he came to the ridiculous conclusion that he was the ‘steward’ of Jesus’ parable of the penny. He later thought he was the world’s high priest.” In discourses to Bible Students throughout England, Johnson characterized himself as Russell’s successor, contending that the mantle of Pastor Russell had fallen upon him just as Elijah’s cloak (“official garment”) fell upon Elisha.—2 Ki. 2:11-14.
Evidently, Johnson’s aspirations had developed even earlier, for Edythe Kessler recalls: “In 1915 I left Bethel and, before starting for Arizona, I visited a couple of old friends I had known for years, and while I was there they entertained a pilgrim, P. S. L. Johnson by name. Satan was already showing his ugly underhanded methods to gain control, no matter how. Johnson said, ‘I’d like to talk with you. Let’s sit in the living room,’ which we did. He commenced by saying: ‘Sister, we know that it is possible for Brother Russell to pass on most any time, but the friends need not be fearful when that happens. I can step into his place and take right over without any stopping of the work.’”
While in England, Johnson endeavored to take complete control of the British field of activity, even trying, without authority, to dismiss certain members of the London headquarters staff. So much confusion resulted that the branch overseer complained to Brother Rutherford. In turn, Rutherford appointed a commission of several brothers in London who were not members of the headquarters staff. They met, heard and weighed the facts and recommended that Johnson be recalled. Rutherford told Johnson to return. Instead of doing so, Johnson sent letters and cablegrams charging the committee with bias, and also trying to justify his course. Seeking to make his position indispensable in Britain, he improperly used the documents furnished him by the Society and impounded its funds in the London bank. Later it became necessary to take court action to have these monies freed.
Johnson finally returned to New York, where he persistently attempted to persuade J. F. Rutherford to send him back to England, but to no avail. Thinking Rutherford was not the right man for the position, Johnson was sure that he himself ought to be the Society’s president. He sought to influence the board of directors. By making it appear that Brother Rutherford was unfit as president, Johnson persuaded four of the seven board members to side with him. The four opposed the Society’s president, vice-president and secretary-treasurer, and the dissident directors sought to wrest administrative control from the president.
J. F. Rutherford held meetings with the opposers and tried to reason with them. A. H. Macmillan says that Rutherford “even came to several of us and asked, ‘Shall I resign as president and let those opposing ones take charge?’ We all replied, ‘Brother, the Lord put you where you are, and to resign or quit would be disloyalty to the Lord.’ Furthermore, the office force threatened they would quit if these men got control.”
At an extended session of the Society’s 1917 annual meeting, the four dissident directors tried to present a resolution to amend the bylaws of the Society. This was a design to place administrative powers in the hands of the board of directors. Since this was contrary both to the organizational arrangement in vogue during Brother Russell’s presidency and to the wish of the shareholders, Rutherford ruled the motion out of order and the plan was foiled. Opposition got stiffer thereafter, but there were some developments the opponents never expected.
“THE FINISHED MYSTERY”
Throughout his entire administration as the Society’s president, Brother Russell, along with the vice-president and secretary-treasurer, had made decisions about new publications. As a group, the board of directors had not been consulted. Rutherford followed the same policy. Hence, in the course of time the Society’s three officers made a far-reaching decision.
Charles Taze Russell had written six volumes of Millennial Dawn, or Studies in the Scriptures, but often spoke about writing a seventh volume. “Whenever I find the key,” said he, “I will write the Seventh Volume; and if the Lord gives the key to someone else, he can write it.” The Society’s officers arranged to have two Bible Students, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher, compile a book consisting of commentaries on Revelation, The Song of Solomon and Ezekiel. The coeditors assembled material from Brother Russell’s writings and this was published under the title “The Finished Mystery” as the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures. Containing largely the thinking and comments of C. T. Russell, it was termed the “posthumous work of Pastor Russell.”
By about mid-1917 it was time to release the new book. That significant day was July 17. “I was on duty in the [Brooklyn Bethel] dining room when the phone rang,” says Martin O. Bowin. “We were getting ready for the noonday meal. I was the nearest one to the phone, so I answered it. Brother Rutherford was on the other end. ‘Who is there with you?’ he asked. I answered, ‘Louis.’ He said to come to his study quickly, and ‘Don’t bother to knock.’ A stack of books was handed to us, with orders to put one at each place setting and get it done before the family arrived for the noon meal.” Soon the dining room was filled with members of the Bethel family.
“As usual,” continues Brother Bowin, “thanks to God was given. Then it started!. . . Headed by . . . P. S. L. Johnson, . . . this demonstration against dear Brother Rutherford began. Hurling vicious charges loudly, they walked back and forth, stopping only at Brother Rutherford’s table to shake their fists at him and further denounce him. . . . All this lasted for about five hours. Then everyone got up from the table with all the dishes and a lot of untouched food still on the table, to be cleaned up by brothers with little energy with which to accomplish it.”
This incident revealed that some members of the Bethel family sympathized with the opposers. If such opposition continued, eventually it would disrupt the entire operation of Bethel. So J. F. Rutherford acted to correct the situation. Though fully acquainted with the legal structure of the Society, Rutherford had consulted a prominent corporation lawyer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, concerning the status of the Society’s board of directors. The written opinion received disclosed that the four dissidents were not legal members of the board. Why not?
C. T. Russell had appointed those men as directors, but the Society’s charter required that directors be elected by vote of the shareholders. Rutherford had told Russell that appointees had to be confirmed by vote at the following annual meeting, but Russell never took that step. So, only the officers who had been elected at the Pittsburgh annual meeting were duly constituted board members. The four appointees were not legal members of the board. Rutherford knew this throughout the period of trouble, but had not mentioned it, hoping that these board members would discontinue their opposition. However, their attitude showed that they were not qualified to be directors. Rightly Rutherford dismissed them and appointed four new board members whose appointment could be confirmed at the next general corporation meeting, early in 1918.
Brother Rutherford did not summarily dismiss the former directors from the Christian organization. Instead, he offered them positions as pilgrims. They refused, voluntarily left Bethel and began spreading their opposition by an extensive speaking and letter-writing campaign throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Consequently, after the summer of 1917, many congregations of Bible Students were composed of two parties—those loyal to Jehovah’s organization and others who had become spiritually drowsy and had fallen victim to the smooth talk of the opposers. The latter became uncooperative and would not engage in the work of preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.
FUTILE EFFORTS TO GAIN CONTROL
The opposition group that had recently left Bethel thought they would be able to control the Bible Students’ convention held at Boston, Massachusetts, in August 1917. Mary Hannan, who was in attendance at that assembly, reports: “Brother Rutherford was alert to this effort on their part and did not give them an opportunity to get on the platform at any time during the sessions. He acted as the chairman all the time.” The convention was a thorough success, to Jehovah’s praise, and the opposers were unable to disrupt it.
J. F. Rutherford knew that the annual corporation meeting of January 5, 1918, would afford the dissidents another chance to get control. He was reasonably sure that the Bible Students in general did not favor such a move. Yet, they would have no opportunity to express themselves at the election, since it was a matter to be handled only by members of the legally constituted corporation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. So, what could Rutherford do? He could give all of Jehovah’s dedicated servants an opportunity to make expression. Accordingly, The Watch Tower of November 1, 1917, suggested that a referendum vote be taken by each congregation. By December 15, 813 congregations sent in their votes and the poll indicated that 10,869 of the 11,421 votes were for J. F. Rutherford as the Society’s president. Among other things, the referendum vote also showed that all the faithful members of the board of directors as reconstituted in July 1917 were preferred over the rebellious individuals who claimed to be board members.
At the annual shareholders’ meeting on Saturday, January 5, 1918, the seven individuals receiving the highest number of votes were J. F. Rutherford, C. H. Anderson, W. E. Van Amburgh, A. H. Macmillan, W. E. Spill, J. A. Bohnet and George H. Fisher. Not one of the opponents succeeded in establishing himself on the board. The officers of the Society were then elected from the duly chosen board members, J. F. Rutherford receiving all the votes cast for president, Charles H. Anderson all of those for vice-president and W. E. Van Amburgh all the votes for secretary-treasurer. Therefore, these men were duly elected as officers of the Society. The opposers’ attempt to gain control had been foiled completely.
Faithful ones and opposers now were beyond reconciliation. The opposition group formed an entirely separate organization headed by a “Committee of Seven.” Separation certainly was complete by March 26, 1918, when the opposers celebrated the Memorial of Christ’s death apart from the faithful congregations of God’s people. The unity of those forming the opposition group was short-lived, however, for at their convention in the summer of 1918 differences arose and a split occurred. P. S. L. Johnson organized a group with headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he published The Present Truth and Herald of Christ’s Epiphany. There he remained, characterizing himself as “earth’s great high priest” until his death. Further dissension from 1918 onward caused division until the original dissident group that had separated from the Watch Tower Society disintegrated into a number of schismatic sects.
Many who withdrew in the years following the death of C. T. Russell did not actively oppose their former Christian associates. Some returned, repented of their actions and associated with God’s people once again. This was a time of severe testing, as Mabel P. M. Philbrick indicates in stating: “My own sorrow was great as I realized that my own father and dearly loved stepmother who had been in line for the heavenly prize were falling away. Many efforts were put forth and many tears shed until I got my bearings, for I well knew that one who lost his crown had no life to look forward to anywhere. The thought of second death for them seemed unbearable. However, one day in prayer Jehovah gave me much comfort as I fully began to want his will to be done. Suddenly I began to appreciate that his love and justice were far greater than my own and that if he didn’t count them worthy of life, I couldn’t hold on to them either, for my father and mother were no different than someone else’s father and mother. From that moment on I had peace of mind.”
Not only did those who separated from Jehovah’s faithful servants in those days break up into sects, but, in most cases, their numbers dwindled and their activities became inconsequential or ceased entirely. Surely they are not fulfilling Jesus’ commission to his followers to preach the good news in all the earth and make disciples.—Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20.
How many forsook true Christianity during the critical years of 1917 and 1918? An incomplete earthwide report shows that the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death on April 5, 1917, was attended by 21,274. (Due to difficulties inside and outside the organization in 1918, attendance figures were not gathered that year.) At the Memorial celebration on April 13, 1919, a partial report gave an attendance of 17,961. Though incomplete, these figures make it clear that far less than 4,000 had ceased walking with their former associates in God’s service.
CHRISTIANS IN THE CRUCIBLE
During 1917 to 1919 the Bible Students were also objects of an international conspiracy fomented particularly by the clergy of Christendom. The Finished Mystery, seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, roused their clerical ire. Within seven months of this publication’s initial release it was enjoying unparalleled circulation. The Society’s outside printers were busy on the 850,000 edition. By the end of 1917 the book also was available in Swedish and French, and translation into other languages was under way.
On December 30, 1917, mass distribution of 10,000,000 copies of a new issue of the four-page, tabloid-size tract The Bible Students Monthly began. Entitled “The Fall of Babylon” and with the subtitles “Ancient Babylon a Type—Mystic Babylon the Antitype—Why Christendom Must Now Suffer—the Final Outcome,” it contained excerpts from the Seventh Volume, with very pointed references to the clergy. On its back page appeared a graphic cartoon depicting a crumbling wall. Some of its stones bore such words as “Protestantism,” “Eternal torment theory,” “Doctrine of the trinity,” “Apostolic succession” and “Purgatory.” With Scriptural foundation the tract showed that the great majority of the clergy “have been unfaithful, disloyal, unrighteous men” who were more responsible than any other class on earth for the war then raging and the great trouble that would follow it. As part of the tract-distribution campaign, widely advertised public lectures on the same subject were delivered on that very day.
How would you like to distribute a tract like that? C. B. Tvedt admits that he ‘will never forget that particular day,’ and states: “It was a most bitter cold day. But the message I was distributing was surely hot. . . . I had a thousand of these papers to distribute under the apartment-house doors and occasionally directly to individuals as I would meet them. I cannot deny that I preferred to make distribution under the doors, for I realized that this was a fiery message and would result in explosive repercussions.”
By late 1917 and early 1918 The Finished Mystery was being distributed in increasing numbers. Angered, the clergy falsely claimed that certain statements in this book were of a seditious nature. They were out to “get” the Watch Tower Society and, like the Jewish religious leaders when Jesus was on earth, they wanted the State to do the work for them. (Compare Matthew 27:1, 2, 20.) Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen falsely represented the Bible Students as being in the employ of the German government. For example, referring to the work of the International Bible Students Association, a legal agency of God’s people, Doctor Case of the Divinity School of Chicago University published this statement: “Two thousand dollars a week is being spent to spread their doctrine. Where the money comes from is unknown; but there is a strong suspicion that it emanates from German sources. In my belief, the fund would be a profitable field for government investigation.”
“This, stimulated by similar charges from other nominal churchmen, evidently had something to do with Army Intelligence officers seizing the books of the Treasurer of the Society,” said The Watch Tower of April 15, 1918. It continued: “The authorities doubtless thought that they would find some evidence to substantiate the charge that our Society is working in the interest of the German government. Of course, the books disclose nothing of the kind. All the money used by our Society is contributed by those who are interested in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his kingdom, and nothing else.” Nationwide newspaper publicity about seizure of the Society’s books tended to excite suspicion.
February 12, 1918, was a marked date for God’s people in Canada. The Watch Tower Society was then banned throughout that land. A public press dispatch stated: “The Secretary of State, under the press censorship regulations, has issued warrants forbidding the possession in Canada of a number of publications, amongst which is the book published by the International Bible Students Association, entitled ‘STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES—The Finished Mystery,’ generally known as the posthumous publication of Pastor Russell. ‘The Bible Students Monthly,’ also published by this Association at its office in Brooklyn, New York, is also prohibited circulation in Canada. The possession of any prohibited books lays the possessor open to a fine not exceeding $5,000 and five years in prison.”
Why the ban? The Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tribune shed some light on that, in saying: “The banned publications are alleged to contain seditious and anti-war statements. Excerpts from one of the recent issues of ‘The Bible Students Monthly’ were denounced from the pulpit a few weeks ago by Rev. Charles G. Paterson, Pastor of St. Stephen’s Church. Afterward Attorney General Johnson sent to Rev. Paterson for a copy of the publication. The censor’s order is believed to be the direct result.”
Not long after the clergy-inspired ban in Canada, the international nature of the conspiracy became evident. In February 1918 the United States Army Intelligence Bureau in New York city began investigating the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters. Not only had it been intimated falsely that the Society was in contact with the German enemy; it had also been reported lyingly to the United States government that the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn was a center for transmitting messages to the German regime. Eventually the public press reported that government agents had seized a wireless apparatus erected and ready for use at the Bethel home. But what were the facts?
In 1915 C. T. Russell was given a small wireless receiver. Personally he was not too interested in it, but a small aerial was erected on the roof of the Bethel home and some younger brothers were given opportunity to learn how to operate the equipment. However, there was not much success in picking up messages. When the United States was about to enter the war, it was required that all wireless instruments be dismantled. So the aerial was taken down and the poles were sawed up and used for other purposes, while the instrument itself was carefully packed away in the Society’s Art Room. It had not been used at all for more than two years when two Army Intelligence men were told about the outfit while in conversation with a member of the Bethel family. They were taken to the roof and shown where it was formerly. Then they were shown the instrument itself, all packed away. By consent, these men took it because there was no use for it at Bethel. The apparatus was a receiver only, not a transmitter. Never was there a sending instrument at Bethel. So it was impossible to transmit a message anywhere.
Opposition and pressure continued to mount against Jehovah’s people. On February 24, 1918, J. F. Rutherford delivered a public lecture at Los Angeles, California, to an audience of 3,500. The morning thereafter the Los Angeles Tribune printed a full-page report of the lecture. This aroused the indignation of local clergymen. The ministerial association held a meeting on Monday morning and sent its president to the managers of the newspaper, demanding that they explain why they had published so much about the lecture. On the following Thursday, the Army Intelligence Bureau took possession of the Bible Students’ Los Angeles headquarters, also taking many of the Society’s publications.
Monday, March 4, 1918, saw the arrest at Scranton, Pennsylvania, of Clayton J. Woodworth (one of the compilers of The Finished Mystery) and several other brothers. They were falsely charged with conspiracy and were put under bond for an appearance for trial in May. Furthermore, as outside pressure increased rapidly against the Society, more than twenty Bible Students were detained in army camps and military prisons because of being denied military exemption. Some of them were court-martialed and sentenced to long prison terms. On March 14, 1918, the United States Department of Justice termed the distribution of The Finished Mystery a violation of the Espionage Act.
A counteroffensive by God’s people—that was a necessity. There must be exposure of the clergy-fomented opposition to the Christian work of the Bible Students. Hence, on March 15, 1918, the Watch Tower Society released a newspaper-size, two-page tract, Kingdom News No. 1. It bore the bold heading ‘Religious Intolerance—Pastor Russell’s Followers Persecuted Because They Tell the People the Truth—Treatment of Bible Students Smacks of the ‘Dark Ages.’” This tract did indeed expose the clergy-inspired persecution of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in Germany, Canada and the United States. Millions of copies were distributed.
Interestingly, this tract said: “We recognize that the United States Government, being a political and economic institution, has the power and authority, under its fundamental law, to declare war and to draft its citizens into military service. We have no disposition to interfere with the draft or the war in any manner. The fact that some of our members have sought to take advantage of the protection of the law, has been used as another means of persecution.”
Kingdom News No. 2 appeared on April 15, 1918. Its striking headline read “‘The Finished Mystery’ and Why Suppressed.” Under the subheading “Clergymen Take a Hand,” this tract showed that the clergy encouraged government agencies to harass the Society, make arrests, object to The Finished Mystery and pressure the Bible Students to cut certain pages (247-253) from that volume. Also, the tract explained why clergymen opposed Jehovah’s servants, and it clarified their stand on war, as well as their belief about the true church.
A petition was circulated in connection with distribution of this Kingdom News. Addressed to United States President Wilson, it read: “We, the undersigned Americans, hold that any interference by the clergy with independent Bible study is intolerant, un-American and un-Christian; and that any attempt to combine Church and State is radically wrong. In the interest of liberty and religious freedom, we solemnly protest against the suppression of The Finished Mystery, and petition the Government to remove all restrictions as to its use, that the people may be permitted without interference or molestation to buy, sell, have and read this aid to Bible study.”
On May 1, 1918, just six weeks after the first Kingdom News, Kingdom News No. 3 was released, bearing the headline “Two Great Battles Raging—Fall of Autocracy Certain” and the subtitle “Satanic Strategy Doomed to Failure.” This issue dealt with the Seed of Promise versus the seed of Satan the Devil. (Gen. 3:15) It traced the development of the antichrist from its birth to the current deeds of the Catholic and Protestant clergy. Boldly this tract showed how the Devil used such agents in an effort to destroy the remnant of Jesus Christ’s anointed followers on earth.
Courage was required to distribute the issues of Kingdom News then published. Some Bible Students were arrested. At times supplies of Kingdom News were confiscated temporarily. Though they found themselves in a crucible of opposition and persecution, Jehovah’s servants maintained faithfulness to God and continued doing their Christian work.
Atrocities were committed against Jehovah’s servants as clergy-laity opposition increased. Giving a partial report of the unbelievable persecutions experienced by the Bible Students, a later publication of the Watch Tower Society said, in part:
“April 12, 1918, at Medford, Oregon, E. P. Taliaferro was mobbed and chased out of town for preaching the gospel and George R. Maynard was stripped, painted and driven from town for permitting Bible study in his home. . . .
“April 17, 1918, at Shawnee, Oklahoma, G. N. Fenn, George M. Brown, L. S. Rogers, W. F. Glass, E. T. Grier and J. T. Tull were jailed. During the trial the Prosecuting Attorney said, ‘To hell with your Bible; you ought to be in hell with your back broken; you ought to be hung.’ When G. F. Wilson, of Oklahoma City, attempted to act as counsel for the defense he also was arrested. Each was fined $55 and costs; offense, distributing Protestant literature. The trial judge encouraged mob action following the trial, but the mobs were foiled.
“April 22, 1918, at Kingsville, Texas, L. L. Davis and Daniel Toole were chased by a mob led by the Mayor and a County Judge and subsequently caught and jailed without a warrant. Davis was forced out of his job. In May, 1918, at Tecumseh, Oklahoma, J. J. May was seized and incarcerated thirteen months in an insane asylum by the order of a Judge, after threatening and abuse. His family was not advised as to what had been done with him. . . .
“March 17, 1918, at Grand Junction, Colorado, a meeting for Bible study was broken up by a mob composed of the Mayor, leading newspaper men and other prominent business men. . . .
“April 22, 1918, at Wynnewood, Oklahoma, Claud Watson was first jailed and then deliberately released to a mob composed of preachers, business men and a few others that knocked him down, caused a negro to whip him and, when he had partially recovered, to whip him again. They then poured tar and feathers all over him, rubbing the tar into his hair and scalp. April 29, 1918, at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, W. B. Duncan, 61 years of age, Edward French, Charles Franke, a Mr. Griffin and Mrs. D. Van Hoesen were jailed. The jail was broken into by a mob that used the most vile and obscene language, whipped, tarred, feathered and drove them from town. Duncan was compelled to walk twenty-six miles to his home and barely recovered. Griffin was virtually blinded and died from the assault a few months later.”
After all these years, T. H. Siebenlist remembers well what happened to his father in Shattuck, Oklahoma. He writes:
“In September of 1917 I started to school and all went well until about March when all schoolchildren were required to buy a Red Cross pin. I took the note home at noon. Dad was at work and mom could only read German at that time. However, Brother Howlett, a pilgrim brother, was visiting the ‘class’ and he took care of the matter. No pin was bought!
“It was shortly after this that the officials picked up dad at work and tried to make him stand on the book The Finished Mystery and salute the flag—this right on Main Street in Shattuck. He was taken to jail . . .
“Shortly after this dad was picked up again and held another three days. This time he was fed very little. His release this time was another story. About midnight three men simulated a jail ‘break-in.’ They put a sack over dad’s head and marched him to the west edge of town barefooted. This was rough terrain and full of sandburs. Here they stripped him to the waist and whipped him with a buggy whip that had a wire at the tip. Then they applied hot tar and feathers, leaving him for dead. He managed to get up and walk and crawl around town toward the southeast. Then he intended to head north and home. However, a friend of his found him and brought him home. I never saw him that night, but it was a terrible shock to mom, especially with a tiny baby in the house, and Grandma Siebenlist fainted when she saw him. My brother John had been born only a few days before all of this happened. However, mom held up under all the strain very well, never losing sight of Jehovah’s protective power. . . .
“Grandma and Aunt Katie, dad’s half sister, began nursing him back to life. The tar and feathers were imbedded in his flesh; so they used goose grease to heal up the wounds and gradually the tar came off. . . . Dad never saw their faces, but he recognized their voices and knew who his assailants were. He never told them. In fact, it was hard to get him ever to talk about it. Yet, he carried those scars to the grave.”
“CAUTIOUS AS SERPENTS”
The banning of The Finished Mystery and certain other Christian publications placed Jehovah’s servants in difficult circumstances. However, they had God-given work to do and they carried on with it, proving themselves “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) Accordingly, at times Bible study aids were hidden in various places—perhaps in an attic, or the coal bin, under floor boards or in furniture.
Brother C. W. Miller tells us this: “As our home was the local Bible Student headquarters at this time, brothers would come at midnight in a truck to bring the literature and we would hide the cartons of books in a chicken coop, camouflaged with Rhode Island Red hens and foliage.”
Recalling an incident that occurred in those days, Brother D. D. Reusch writes: “At the home of the Reed family, the books were stored out of sight outdoors at the rear of the house and, as the police approached, the Reeds held their breath when they neared the hiding site. Just then a huge drift of snow fell from the roof, completely covering that area.”
“FRAMING TROUBLE BY DECREE”
Centuries ago the psalmist asked: “Will the throne causing adversities be allied with you while it is framing trouble by decree?” (Ps. 94:20) Jehovah’s servants always obey all the laws of the nations that are not out of harmony with the laws of God. But, as might be expected, when there is a conflict between the demands of mere men and the laws of God, Christians take the apostolic position and “obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Sometimes good laws are misapplied in an effort to stop their work. In other instances, foes succeed in having decrees passed that work injury to God’s people.
The Selective Draft Act was passed by the United States Congress on June 15, 1917. It provided for the conscription of manpower but also for exemption of men who, because of religious beliefs, could not engage in war. Many young men throughout the country wrote to the Watch Tower Society, asking Judge Rutherford what course they should pursue. He later said regarding this: “I was asked by many young men in the country as to what course they should take in this regard. In every instance my advice was to this effect, given to young men who requested it, to wit: ‘If you cannot conscientiously engage in war, Section 3 of the Selective Draft Act makes provision for you to file application for exemption. You should register and file your application for exemption, setting forth the reason, and the draft board will pass on your application.’ I never did more than to advise them to take advantage of the act of Congress. I always insisted that every citizen should obey the law of the land as long as that law was not in conflict with God’s law.”
Back in the World War I era a definite conspiracy against Jehovah’s servants came to light. In furtherance of it, many clergymen held a conference at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1917. They there appointed a committee to visit the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and insist on a revision of the Selective Draft Act and the Espionage Act. The committee called on the Department of Justice. At the instance of the clergymen, a member of the department, John Lord O’Brian, was selected to prepare an amendment to the Espionage Law and have it introduced in the United States Senate. This amendment provided that all offenses committed in violation of the Espionage Law should be tried by a military court and that the death penalty should be inflicted upon those held guilty. However, the bill did not pass.
A provision known as the “France Amendment” was introduced at the time that Congress undertook the amending of the Espionage Law. This amendment exempted from the Act’s provision any person who uttered “what is true, with good motives and for justifiable ends.”
However, on May 4, 1918, Senator Overman had a memorandum from the Attorney General put in the Congressional Record (May 4, 1918, pages 6052, 6053). It stated, in part:
“The opinion of the Military Intelligence Branch is entirely adverse to the amendment to the espionage law to the effect that section 3, Title I, shall not apply to those who utter, ‘what is true, with good motives and for justifiable ends.’
“Experience teaches that such an amendment would to a large degree nullify the value of the law and turn every trial into an academic debate on insoluble riddles as to what is true. Human motives are too complicated to be discussed, and the word ‘justifiable’ is too elastic for practical use. . . .
“One of the most dangerous examples of this sort of propaganda is the book called ‘The Finished Mystery,’ a work written in extremely religious language and distributed in enormous numbers. The only effect of it is to lead soldiers to discredit our cause and to inspire a feeling at home of resistance to the draft.
“The Kingdom News, of Brooklyn, prints a petition demanding that restrictions on ‘The Finished Mystery’ and similar works should be removed, ’so that people may be permitted, without interference or molestation, to buy, sell, have, and read this aid to Bible study, The passage of this amendment would reopen our camps to this poisonous influence.
“The International Bible Students’ Association pretends to the most religious motives, yet we have found that its headquarters have long been reported as the resort of German agents. . . .
“The passage of this amendment would greatly weaken American efficiency and help none but the enemy. Results, not motives, count in war, therefore the law and its executors should be concerned with procuring desirable and preventing dangerous results, leaving motives to the mercy of the judges or to the perspective of historians.”
As a consequence of these efforts by the Department of Justice, the amended Espionage Act was approved on May 16, 1918, without the “France Amendment.”
“WE KNOW HOW TO GET YOU, AND WE ARE GOING TO DO IT!”
Around this time, some young men associated with the Bible Students were called for military service and, as conscientious objectors, had been sent to Camp Upton on Long Island, New York. This camp was supervised by General James Franklin Bell. He visited J. F. Rutherford at his office and sought to induce him to instruct these men to take whatever service Bell might assign them, whether across the sea or elsewhere. Rutherford refused. The general insisted and finally Rutherford wrote a letter, which said, in essence: “Each one of you must decide for himself whether he wishes to engage in active military service or not. Do what you consider to be your duty and what is right in the sight of Almighty God.” This letter did not satisfy Bell at all.
A few days later, J. F. Rutherford and W. E. Van Amburgh visited General Bell at Camp Upton. Bell, in the presence of his aide-de-camp and Van Amburgh, told Rutherford of the Philadelphia conference of clergymen. He mentioned their selection of John Lord O’Brian to present matters to the Senate, resulting in the introduction of a bill to have all cases against the Espionage Law tried before a military court, with death as the punishment. General Bell “showed considerable heat,” according to Rutherford, who reported: “Before him on his desk lay a package of papers, and with his index finger he tapped these and, directing his speech to me, with real feeling said: ‘That bill did not pass, because Wilson prevented it; but we know how to get you, and we are going to do it!’ To that statement I replied: ‘General, you will know where to find me.’”
DEATHBLOW FOR “TWO WITNESSES”
After early October 1914, Christ’s anointed followers proclaimed that the Gentile Times had ended and that the nations were approaching their destruction at Armageddon. (Luke 21:24; Rev. 16:14-16) These figurative “two witnesses” declared this mournful message for the nations for 1,260 days, or three and a half years (October 4/5, 1914, to March 26/27, 1918). Then the Devil’s beastly political system warred against God’s “two witnesses,” eventually ‘killing’ them as far as their tormenting work of prophesying “in sackcloth” was concerned, to the great relief of their religious, political, military and judicial foes. (Rev. 11:3-7; 13:1) That was the prophecy, and it was fulfilled. But how?
On May 7, 1918, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a warrant for the arrest of certain principal servants of the Watch Tower Society. Involved were President J. F. Rutherford, Secretary-Treasurer W. E. Van Amburgh, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher (the two compilers of The Finished Mystery), F. H. Robison (a member of the Watch Tower editorial committee), A. H. Macmillan, R. J. Martin and Giovanni DeCecca.
On the very next day, May 8, 1918, those of this group who were at Brooklyn Bethel were placed under arrest. Eventually all were in custody. Shortly thereafter they were arraigned in Federal Court, Judge Garvin presiding. All of them were met with an indictment previously returned by the Grand Jury, charging them with
“(1, 3) The offense of unlawfully, feloniously and willfully causing and attempting to cause insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States of America, in, through and by personal solicitations, letters, public speeches, distribution and public circulation throughout the United States of America of a certain book called ‘Volume Seven—SCRIPTURES STUDIES—The Finished Mystery’; and distributing and publicly circulating throughout the United States certain articles presented in pamphlets called, ‘BIBLE STUDENTS MONTHLY,’ ‘THE WATCH TOWER,’ ‘KINGDOM NEWS’ and other pamphlets not named, et cetera;
“(2, 4) The offense of unlawfully, feloniously, and willfully obstructing the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States when the United States was at war.”
Principally, the indictment was based on one paragraph in The Finished Mystery. It read: Nowhere in the New Testament is Patriotism (a narrow-minded hatred of other peoples) encouraged. Everywhere and always murder in its every form is forbidden; and yet, under the guise of Patriotism the civil governments of earth demand of peace-loving men the sacrifice of themselves and their loved ones and the butchery of their fellows, and hail it as a duty demanded by the laws of heaven.”
Brothers Rutherford, Van Amburgh, Macmillan and Martin faced a second indictment of trading with the enemy, based on a claim that the Society’s officers sent $500 to the manager of the Swiss branch of the Society at Zurich. Each brother arraigned was held over on bail of $2,500 for each of the indictments. They were released on bail and appeared in court on May 15, 1918. The trial was set for June 3, 1918, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The brothers pleaded “not guilty” to both indictments and considered themselves completely innocent of all the charges.
Owing to the feeling manifested in preliminary hearings, the defendants filed affidavits showing why they felt Judge Garvin was biased against them. In time, United States District Judge Harland B. Howe was brought in to preside at the trial. According to A. H. Macmillan, although the defendants were unaware of Howe’s views, the government knew that he “had special prejudice in favor of the prosecution of the law and against the defendants charged with violating it.” Macmillan also stated: “But we were not left long in the dark. From the first conference of the attorneys in the judge’s chambers before the trial began his animosity was manifested, and he indicated, ‘I’m going to give these defendants all that is coming to them.’ However, it was now too late for our attorneys to file an affidavit of prejudice on the part of the judge.”
Macmillan said that the indictment as originally returned charged that the defendants had entered into a conspiracy sometime between April 6, 1917, when the United States declared war, and May 6, 1918. Upon motion the government specified that the date of the alleged offense was between June 15, 1917, and May 6, 1918.
SCENES IN THE COURTROOM
The United States was at war. A court trial of Bible Students on a sedition charge thus attracted great attention. What about public sentiment? It favored anything that would further the war effort. Outside the courtroom bands played and soldiers marched around nearby Brooklyn Borough Hall. Inside the courtroom the fifteen-day trial wore on, piling up a veritable mountain of testimony. Why not step inside and witness the proceedings.
A. H. Macmillan, one of the defendants, helps us to sense the atmosphere, for he later wrote: “During the trial the government said that if a person stood on the street corner and repeated the Lord’s prayer with the intent of discouraging men from joining the army, he could be sent to the penitentiary. So you can see how easy it was for them to interpret intent. They thought they could tell what another person was thinking, and so they acted against us on that basis even though we testified that we never at any time conspired to do anything whatsoever to affect the draft and never encouraged anyone to resist it. It was all to no avail. Certain religious leaders of Christendom and their political allies were determined to get us. The prosecution, with consent of Judge Howe, aimed for conviction, insisting that our motive was irrelevant and that intent should be inferred from our acts. I was found guilty solely on the basis that I countersigned a check, the purpose of which could not be determined, and that I signed a statement of fact that was read by Brother Rutherford at a board meeting. Even then they could not prove that it was my signature. The injustice of this helped us later in our appeal.”
At one point, a former officer of the Society was sworn in. After looking at an exhibit bearing two signatures, he said he recognized one as that of W. E. Van Amburgh. Here the Transcript of Record reads:
“Q. I hand you Exhibit 31 for identification, and ask you to look at the two signatures or purported signatures, of Macmillan and Va[n] Amburgh, and ask you first as to Van Amburgh, if in your opinion that is a mimeograph copy of his signature? A. I think it is. I recognize it as such.
“Q. Mr. MacMillan’s? A. Mr. MacMillan’s is not so recognizable, but I think it is his signature.”
Concerning the defense presented by those on trial, Brother Macmillan later wrote:
“After the Government had completed its case we presented our defense. In essence we showed that the Society is wholly a religious organization; that the members accept as their principles of belief the holy Bible as expounded by Charles T. Russell; that C. T. Russell in his lifetime wrote and published six volumes, Studies in the Scriptures, and as early as 1896 promised the seventh volume which would treat Ezekiel and Revelation; that on his deathbed he stated that someone else would write the seventh volume; that shortly after his death the executive committee of the Society authorized C. J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher to write and submit manuscript for consideration without any promise made concerning publication; that the manuscript on Revelation was completed before the United States got into the war and all the manuscript of the entire book (except a chapter on the Temple) was in the hands of the printer before the enactment of the Espionage Law; hence, it was impossible for any such conspiracy as charged to have been entered into to violate the law.
“We testified that we never at any time combined, agreed or conspired to do anything whatsoever to affect the draft or interfere with the Government in the prosecution of the war, nor did we have any thought of so doing; that we never had any intention of interfering in any manner with the war; that our work was wholly religious and not at all political; that we did not solicit members and never advised or encouraged anyone to resist the draft; that the letters written were to those whom we knew to be dedicated Christians who were entitled under the law to advice; that we were not opposed to the nation going to war, but as dedicated Christians could not engage in mortal combat.”
But not everything said and done at that trial was open and aboveboard. Macmillan later reported: “Some of our people who were attending the trial later told me that one of the attorneys for the Government had gone out into the hallway, where he talked in low tones to some of those who had led the opposition within the Society. They said, ‘Don’t let that fellow [Macmillan] go; he’s the worst of the bunch. He’ll keep things going if you don’t get him with the others.’” Remember that at this time ambitious men had been trying to get control of the Watch Tower Society. No wonder Rutherford later warned brothers left in charge at Bethel: ‘We are advised that seven who opposed the Society and its work during the past year attended upon the trial and lent aid to our prosecutors. We warn you, beloved, against the subtle efforts of some of them to fawn upon you now in an attempt to get hold of the Society.”
Finally, after the lengthy trial, the awaited day of decision arrived. June 20, 1918, at about 5:00 p.m., the case went to the jury. J. F. Rutherford later recalled: “The jury hesitated a long while before rendering a verdict. Finally Judge Howe sent word in to them that they must bring in a verdict of ‘Guilty,’ as one of the jurors afterwards stated to us.” After some four and a half hours of deliberation, at 9:40 p.m., the jury returned with their verdict—“Guilty.”
Sentencing took place on June 21. The courtroom was full. When asked if they had anything to say, the defendants did not respond. Then came the sentence by Judge Howe. Angrily he said: “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.”
It was. Seven of the defendants were sentenced to eighty years in the penitentiary (twenty years each on four counts, to run concurrently). The sentence for Giovanni DeCecca was delayed, but he ultimately received forty years, or ten years on each of the same four counts. The defendants were to serve their sentences at the United States penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.
The trial had lasted for fifteen days. Testimony recorded had been voluminous and the proceedings often unfair. In fact, it was demonstrated later that the trial contained over 125 errors. Only a few of these were needed by the Appellate Court eventually to condemn the whole procedure as unfair.
“I went and suffered through it all with the brothers as they were subjected to this unfair ordeal,” comments James Gwin Zea, who was present as an observer. He continues: “I can still see the judge refusing Brother Rutherford an opportunity to make a defense. ‘The Bible doesn’t go in this court’ was his comment. I stayed with Brother M. A. Howlett in Bethel that night and about ten o’clock word came that they had been convicted. They were sentenced the next day.”
Despite their unjust convictions and the severe sentences they had received, Brother Rutherford and his associates were undaunted. Interestingly, the New York Tribune of June 22, 1918, reported: “Joseph F. Rutherford and six of the other ‘Russellites,’ convicted of violation of the Espionage Act, were sentenced to 20 years in the Atlanta penitentiary yesterday, by Judge Howe. ‘This is the happiest day of my life,’ said Mr. Rutherford on his way from the court to the jail, ‘to serve earthly punishment for the sake of one’s religious belief is one of the greatest privileges a man could have.’ One of the strangest demonstrations that the Marshal’s Office in the Brooklyn Federal Court has ever seen, was held by the families and intimate friends of the convicted men soon after the prisoners had been taken to the Grand Jury room. The whole company made the old building ring with the strains of ‘Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.’ ‘It is all God’s will,’ they told each other, with faces almost radiant. ‘Some day the world will know what all this means. Meanwhile, let us be thankful for the grace of God that has sustained us through our trials and look forward to the Great Day that is to come.’”
While their case was on appeal, twice the brothers tried to obtain bail but were thwarted, first by Judge Howe and later by Judge Martin T. Manton. In the meantime, they first were held in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street jail, “the dirtiest hole I ever got into,” according to A. H. Macmillan. Clayton J. Woodworth jocularly called it the “Hotel de Raymondie” That unpleasant week-long stay was followed by another week spent in the Long Island City prison. Finally, on the fourth of July, United States Independence Day, the unjustly condemned men were sent on their way by train to the Atlanta, Georgia, penitentiary.