O N OCTOBER 31, 1916, ON A RAILROAD TRAIN EASTWARD BOUND THROUGH TEXAS, PASTOR CHARLES TAZE RUSSELL, FAMILIARLY KNOWN TO THOUSANDS OF HIS BRETHREN IN CHRIST THE WORLD OVER AS “BROTHER” RUSSELI, PASSED AWAY!
The news of his death spread very rapidly, and for a time those who knew and loved him for his work’s sake could think and speak of little else as they met one another except that “Brother Russell is dead.”
Somehow many of us felt that Brother Russell would remain with the church in the flesh as long as there was work to do this side the veil, and it was difficult to grasp the hard fact that now he was gone.
* * * * * * *
PASTOR RUSSELL began his ministry as a very young man. Raised a Presbyterian, he took to heart the teachings of that denomination, particularly the doctrine of eternal torture for all who die unconverted. So thoroughly did he believe this superstition that at times he went up and down the streets of his home city with chalk in hand, writing on the sidewalks special warnings to all sinners.
Later he began to reason matters out for himself and concluded that a God of love would not torment unbelievers; but, believing (or supposing) that the torment theory was taught in the Bible, he began to doubt that the Bible was inspired by God.
He then made a study of various heathen religions, but without finding anything to satisfy his mind and heart . Later, in the Lord’s providence, he learned that much of the misunderstanding concerning future punishment for sin was due to mistranslations of the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek words hades and Gehenna. It was the improper translation of these words in certain scriptures that had made the Bible appear to teach that God would torment sinners forever.
Now, Brother Russell learned that Paul’s statement, ‘The wages of sin is death,” is really true—that death, not torment, is the penalty for sin.
Then he began a study of the prophecies . Others joined him. They found that a mistranslation of the Greek word parousia had led to a misunderstanding of the subject of Christ’s return, just as mistranslations of sheol, hades, and Gehenna had led to error regarding the penalty for sin. It was discovered that parousia means presence, and not “coming” and that when used in the prophecies of the second advent it refers to the time when Christ is present, not to when he will come. This proved to be the key which unlocked the prophecies of the second advent, and it was soon apparent from the light then enjoyed that the scriptural date 1874 marked the beginning of the second presence.
In the early seventies Brother Russell and several others studied the Scriptures together for over two years. Telling of this experience later, he said the most outstanding truth of God’s Word which came to light as a result of this long period of study was that the return of Christ is for the restoring of the human race to life, and not to destroy the earth, as commonly believed in nominal church circles. In relating this he cited that wonderful statement by Peter recorded in Acts 3:19-21 concerning the ‘‘times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began”
The Spirit of the Movement
It was this grand and ennobling truth of “restitution” for a sin-cursed and dying race that proved largely to be the inspiration of the “truth” movement which was then inaugurated and fostered by Brother Russell. In the past just the Lord’s saints heard this glorious message, but in the harvest of this age it would be widely proclaimed so that millions would hear this heart-warming theme.
Nominal church leaders of all denominations were shocked that anyone would dare to preach what they considered to be a second chance,” forgetting that the vast majority of humanity had died without having had any chance. So long had they been accustomed to circumscribing the grace of God and magnifying his vengeance that their narrowed vision of truth and their resultant shrunken hearts would not permit them to believe that God could possibly bestow his grace and blessing upon others besides themselves . As a result of putting out the fires of hell and portraying God as loving and ready and anxious to bestow his blessings upon those who had died in ignorant unbelief, Brother Russell became a hated object of attack and persecution by nearly all Christendom.
But that which called forth the cry of ‘‘Heresy!!’’ from his enemies warmed the hearts of those who responded to the original, and now revived, Gospel of love —the true Gospel of Christ.
The word “restitution” was almost a magic one, opening up a new vista of hope and inspiration. Men and women of all denominations responded. Atheists, whose largeness of heart belied the creedal god of torment, rejoiced to find the true God of the Bible. Regardless of former beliefs or disbeliefs, those who “came into the truth” were, by the sheer grandeur and beauty of the message, imbued with a determination to spread the good news far and wide.
“I love to tell the story, it did so much for me,” is the way the “truth people” felt about it. And what a grand story it was! Truly did the poet say, “It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.” Brother Russell himself once said, and very truthfully so, that if the Gospel of Christ as embodied in the divine plan does not satisfy one’s longings, there must be something the matter with his longings.
The heavenly calling of the church became more understandable in the light of restitution blessings for the world. In fact, every phase of divine truth radiated a new and better meaning when viewed in the light of restitution. We might almost say that without restitution the study of any part of the Bible merely leads up a blind alley and leaves the student without an answer to his questions. Restitution proved to be the common denominator of all the problems of divine revelation. Without it, there came endless controversies, contradictions, and chaos; with it, there were found harmony and satisfaction and an incentive that could not be denied to tell the whole world these blessed tidings.
The hope of restitution for the world of mankind lifted the Gospel out of the realm of selfishness into the sphere of love. Those who “came into the truth” had no further use for that puny and selfish conception of Christianity embodied in the traditional prayer, “God bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more.” They knew now, and how they rejoiced in that knowledge, that God’s plan calls for the blessing of “all the families of the earth.
For more than forty years this glorious Gospel of the grace of God was heralded forth by Brother Russell in every conceivable way . Increasing thousands labored with him and rejoiced with him. Together they scattered the message by printed page and from the platform, through the public press and the Photo Drama of Creation, and over the garden fence.
Those who rejoiced in the restored Gospel of Christ were often referred to as “Russellites,” and sometimes as “Millennial Dawnists,’ but it made little difference what the world called them, for they knew that “God had called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The Promptings of Love
The blessed light of truth, made radiant by the hope of restitution blessings for all the families of the earth, revealed the love of God as nothing else could do; and it inspired love in the hearts of those who believed . Divine love is an unselfish principle that thinks of others and reaches out to bless them. It was inevitable, therefore, that the truth movement should be characterized by a fervency of the
Brother Russell couldn’t keep the truth to himself. He devoted his personal fortune to spreading the message and used up all his vitality of mind and body for the same purpose.
He felt that he could never do enough. The creedal gods were so mean and contemptible that he could not be satisfied short of devoting his all in showing forth the praises of the good God of love whom he found revealed in the sacred Word. And all who came into the truth felt the same way about it.
It was not surprising, therefore, that forty years of missionary effort by a group who were thus inspired by the love of God resulted in thousands accepting the message and becoming “truth people.”
Nearly a hundred thousand subscribed to Brother Russell’s semimonthly magazine , The Watch Tower.
Twelve hundred local groups of Bible Students elected him as their pastor. Some of these groups numbered more than a thousand, many of them hundreds. The Brooklyn and London Tabernacle congregations were outstanding among these.
But now Brother Russell was dead! That he died while still active in the missionary field did not alter the fact that he no longer could be the pace-setter for the zealous workers who loved the truth they received through him and who wanted to lay down their lives to give it to others. He was dead, and the brethren were stunned. What now?
For a time after Brother Russell passed beyond the veil, most of the brethren held strictly to the truth as it had been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, although from the start it became apparent that matters of minor importance were engaging the attention of those who were taking a leading part in continuing the work. Early in his ministry Brother Russell surveyed the general framework of the truth and concluded that, in order to treat all its phases in the detail needed to clarify the message and to separate the truth from the superstitions of the Dark Ages, a set of seven books would be needed. In the seventh he expected to deal primarily with the Book of Revelation.
He died without writing the seventh book which he had contemplated. This left the way open for speculative minds to go to work, and they did. In a remarkably short time a Seventh Volume” was published, with the claim that it was the posthumous work of Brother Russell . It created a stir among the brethren, resulting in divisions in many places . It was not truly the posthumous work of Brother Russell, and in some ways it was contrary to both the letter and the spirit of his teachings.
It was made a test of fellowship in many ecclesias; it was one of the first major issues to arise which diverted attention from that glorious and all-important theme of the true Gospel. The “Seventh Volume” itself did not deny the doctrine of restitution or any of the other doctrines of the truth, but the attention that was focused upon its speculations tended to take the eyes and hearts of the brethren away from that main theme which had satisfied their longings as nothing else had done. It marked the beginning of an era among the brethren in which the trend was to relegate first things to the background and to focus the attention of the consecrated upon side issues of speculative and nonessential theories.
The story of the “Seventh Volume” would not be complete should we fail to mention that in a remarkably short time after it was published it was virtually rejected by the publishers. It is well nigh impossible to believe, yet true, that whereas when this book was first published those who did not accept it were condemned and disfellowshiped, within a few years those who did accept it were disfellowshiped.
The repudiation of the “Seventh Volume” by its publishers was quite in keeping with a general development which became manifest about 1924. At that time there began a departure from the truth as the brethren had learned and proved it under the leadership of Brother Russell. As it was claimed that the “Seventh Volume” was written by Brother Russell, it was but natural that it should be discarded. Eventually, all Brother Russell’s writings, including the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, passed out of print.
The departures from pure truth were slight at first. Many did not discern them; and many of those who did consoled themselves with the thought that this trend would not continue. However, as each item of truth was set aside by The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and an erroneous substitute put in its place, some withdrew their support from the general effort. This went on year after year, with more and more of the “old-timers” leaving the original organization as its teachings departed further and further from what they were when Brother Russell died.
The claim was made that the brethren were progressing in the light, a light which was to shine more and more unto the perfect day! But was this claim true? Let us see. As we have noted, the great theme which made the truth so marvelous and so far in advance of anything taught by nominal churchianity was that of restitution—the glorious Gospel which was spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began. The practical, everyday meaning of this was that those who believed and rejoiced in it could exercise hope for those who did not accept it in this life.
New Light—Old Darkness
When that terrible pall of darkness settled down over Christianity following the death of the apostles, one of its densest aspects was the humanly conceived limit which was placed upon the grace of God, a limit which said that salvation is restricted to those who believe before they gasp their last breath of this fitful and condemned life. And even worse than this was the sectarian construction which was put upon that word ‘believe.” To the Catholics it meant to believe the teachings of the Catholic Church. To the various Protestant groups it meant the acceptance of their particular interpretation of truth and how to practice it. To all and sundry it meant, “Come with us, and do it before you die, or you will be forever lost’ ‘—or at least suffer for hundreds of years in a terrible purgatory of torment, as the Catholic Church teaches.
This concept of the Gospel replaced love with fear as an incentive to believe and obey, and for this there is no scriptural authorization. There isn’t a hint anywhere in the Bible that the opportunity to obtain salvation through Christ is limited to this present life. How we rejoiced in the largeness of the truth, that it enabled us to look with sympathy upon those who could not see as we do and to rejoice that when the time of their visitation comes they will have a more favorable opportunity to believe than is now possible, when Satan is abroad to deceive and blind the minds of those who believe not. Yes, we were proud of the truth! With Paul we could say, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”—Rom. 1:16
But what happened? Well, to start with, for example, through the “channel” there came a new interpretation of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. And the new interpretation was wrong. There’s no question about that. But much more important than the erroneous interpretation itself was the fact that it was a step into darkness, because it began to take away that glorious hope of blessing for all the families of the earth. It hinted strongly that most of the ministers of denominational churches were going into the “second death.”
As we first learned the truth, the “second death” was merely one of its doctrines, a necessary one, to be sure, but somehow we did not think too much about it. We knew that all incorrigible sinners would go into the second death, but it hadn’t occurred to us that those who are unable to see the truth as a result of our stammering, bungling way of explaining it to them and because there are a hundred other voices calling from other directions were incorrigible sinners.
So this comparatively obscure doctrine of the second death suddenly came to the fore, and as the new flashes of alleged light increased (?) in brilliance, the brethren were told of more and more who were going into the second death. Among the classes for which there was no hope at all was the one made up of those who did not accept the ‘new” light from what was claimed to be the Lord’s exclusive channel of divine truth. To leave this “channel,” therefore, was looked upon as the blackest of all sins which a mere mortal could commit. Those who did so were considered a part of the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition,” and certain to be punished with the second death.
Darkness for Light
As we have said, according to these teachings, ever increasing numbers seemed to be in line for the second death. This popular trend of so-called increasing light continued until it was discovered that so many were going into the second death that there wouldn’t be enough people left of those who have lived and died to fill the earth. So, the next flash of “light” revealed that those who accept these teachings and work hard to promulgate them will live through the “time of trouble,” get married, and raise large families—very large, indeed—and thus through them will the earth be filled.
The Scriptures, of course, do not teach any such absurd notion as this, but because so many people had been consigned to the second death something had to be done about it, and the advancement of this fantastic theory of “filling the earth” seemed like a logical thing. Like every other false doctrine, it was “proved” by the use of remote scripture texts improperly associated and woven into a pattern of belief which was naught else than a “cunningly devised fable.”
This substitute for restitution was about the final step backward into the fundamental viewpoint of all nominal churchianity. That blessed theme of God’s mercy and grace, that melody of love which had as its chorus the blessing of all the families of the earth, was scarcely heard in her any more at all. As in Babylon, fear took the place of love and became the driving power back of all their activities; and fear was implemented with the threat of the second death to all who dared question the new “light.”
With this advancement” accomplished, the teachings of the Watch Tower relative to hope beyond the grave were in principle no different from those of all Christendom except in one respect, that is, the use of the “second death,” instead of eternal torture, as a whip to keep the workers in line. Their teachings, of course, differed from those of the churches in a hundred ways so far as details were concerned. So do all the nominal churches differ from one another, but the final result of their teachings is the same; namely, “Believe us now, or be lost.” It is into this gross darkness that many wtio once rejoiced in the truth gradually were led. The theme song of restitution for the condemned race no longer stirred their hearts.
Many Wonderful Works
The “zea l of God’s house,” engendered by love, remained with thousands of the Bible students following the death of Brother Russell. But the scene gradually changed and the inspiration of the movement was transformed. Instead of love and the sheer joy of telling the world about a God of love, “great works” of one kind or another kept the brethren whipped up to a frenzy of misguided zeal and self-sacrificing devotion to a false cause. An intermingling of fear and hate was the backdrop for these scenes of activity—fear of the second death if not faithful, and hate for those who did not accept the message, particularly for Roman Catholics.
Yes, many “great works” were attempted: the “Elisha work,” “calling out the prisoners” from Babylon, “building the temple wall,” gathering the “Jonadabs,” casting up the “highway of holiness,” offering “the waters of the river of life” to the people, etc. It was truly remarkable how quickly each one of these gigantic tasks was undertaken and then forgotten, while the campaigners went on to the next item in hand.
The “new light” slogan found an effective place in the general furor of excitement. The “channel” advocates moved on unabashed from one viewpoint to another, totally disregarding, and at times it would seem, almost glorying in, their ability to contradict today what they had taught yesterday. In 1923, an article was published by these brethren urging the friends to adhere to the teachings of Brother Russell, warning that those who sought to lead the brethren away from these teachings were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not long after, they taught that those who did not depart from Brother Russell’s teachings but insisted upon adhering to them were of the “evil servant” class and certain of going into the second death if they did not repent.
When the “Elisha” work was at its height, it was announced that those engaging in it were blessed with a “double portion of the Spirit” ; but in 1927 it was announced that the church no longer possessed the Holy Spirit at all.
In 1921 restitution blessings were said to be for all men, in 1934 this was denied, and in 1939 “elective elders” were derided for continuing to believe in restitution for the world.
Even the fundamental doctrine of the ransom was tampered with. For a time after Brother Russell’s death it was still taught that Jesus died for all, including Adam, that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In 1939 it was “discovered” that Adam was not redeemed by Christ, hence will not be raised from the dead. And there was some cleverly false reasoning in connection with this change. It was said that the reason Adam was not redeemed by Christ was that he was a willful sinner. Those who accepted this “new light” seemed to overlook the fact that if he had not been a willful sinner he would not have needed to be redeemed.
Samples of other and less important changes might be briefly noted . In 1930, Nebuchadnezzar represented Satan; in 1936 , he represented God. In 1923, character development was a work of God; in 1927, a delusion of the devil. In 1924, true religion was of God; in 1937, all religion was a snare of the devil and a racket. In 1918, the church was not under the New Covenant; in 1934, the church was under the New Covenant.
We might go on almost endlessly citing these contradictions, but no particular purpose would be accomplished by wearying the reader with more. To err is human, and no student and teacher of the Scriptures should be held up to ridicule simply because he discovers that he has made a mistake and wishes to correct it.
But in this case no mistakes were acknowledged, nor from their standpoint could they have been made . It was claimed that God was their teacher, and God couldn’t make a mistake. One can’t help wondering, though, what god it was; for, to say the least, he was a very changeable one, whereas of the true God it is written “I am the Lord, I change not.” — Mal. 3:6
But we should not lose sight of the main issue involved. The important considerat-ion is not so much that this and that item of truth was changed or that various types of work were attempted . The main thing is that in all this maze of interpretation and misinterpretation, of fanciful speculations and weird theories, of unauthorized and abortive campaigns of great works, and of fear engendered by threats of the second death, there was lost the melodious theme song of God’s love, as it formerly resounded from his plan to bless all the families of the earth.
With this loss, thousands of the brethren the world over were left in much the same position as the Hebrews in Babylon, of whom it is written that they “wept” when they “remembered Zion.” (Ps. 137:1).. The truth was lost! The Watch Tower had taken the position of all other groups who hold out no hope to men unless they ‘flee to the organization” for safety and protection. These friends are still earnest, sincere, and zealous. Would that all of us had the same degree of zeal; but the pure truth is no longer with them. They have some details of truth. They can even define the soul, they believe in one God instead of three, they have a general know -ledge that we are in the end of the age, but their central theme is not of God. They are laying down their lives bearing witness to a message which, according to their own viewpoint, is doing nothing for the masses who do not receive it except to make them liable to the second death. Thus has the sacred flame of truth —that inspiring truth of God’s love revealed by ransom and restitution—been extinguished in the minds of many.
Having traced this main detour from that great teacning which was the very lifeblood of the truth movement under the leadership of Brother Russell, let us now go back again to the time of his death and note other developments. Not all Bible Students remained in one group. Far from it. Some ceased their cooperation almost immediately upon Brother Russell’s death. Others “left” in connection with the “Seventh Volume’’ incident; and through the years, for one reason or another, other brethren withdrew their support from the “Society.”
Among these many who did not choose to remain in the “channel,” various “movements” developed, each with a different viewpoint of the needs of the times. One had its inception in the northwestern part of the United States and Canada and, while it found adherents here and there, it never became organized outside of that limited area. Those who became associates of this movement were noble, earnest, and self-sacrificing Christians.
And they were good students of the Bible, too. They had learned the truth and could give a reason for their hope. They refused to compromise the truth and its application to their Christian lives. Their stand embodied also the refusal to buy war bonds and in other ways to cooperate with the war effort during the first World War.
The ‘Seventh Volume” also was involved in their conception of loyalty to principle and truth. These dear brethren accepted ‘The Finished Mystery” as the very book which Pastor Russell intended to write. They believed that it was the posthumous work of Brother Russell. So, when those who published the Seventh Volume repudiated it, they stood fast in its support; and some of these brethren still do.
This movement, as a coordinated effort, was short-lived. The brethren tried to work together without having any work to do, and the inevitable result was disintegration. And why did they have no work to do? It was because they decided that the harvest work of the Gospel age had ended with the death of Brother Russell, hence that a public proclamation of the truth would no longer be pleasing to God.
This was an unfortunate viewpoint because it robbed the truth of much of its joy-inspiring power. With the missionary incentive banished by speculative interpretations, the brethren found outlet for their energies in picking doctrinal and other flaws with one another, with the result that divisions and subdivisions became the order of the day. They stood fast in the truth, all right; but, by holding it exclusively for themselves, they lost much of its spirit. The theme song of love, the voice of God, ceased to be a power inspiring them to lay down their lives that others might have an opportunity to learn that God intends to bless all the families of the earth.
They loved the truth but forgot that God had called them into his marvelous light in order that they might show forth his praises by telling it to others. They forgot that their worthiness to share in the blessing of all the families of the earth during the next age depended upon their interest in all the families of the earth now.
With many brethren, however, the zeal of God’s house continued as a flame that could not be quenched. The fact that leaders said the work was done could not and did not quench that flame. It burned on and today is again finding expression in the joyful work of telling the whole world these blessed tidings.
WHEN PASTOR RUSSELL DIED
Phamplet - Published by:
Dawn Bible Students Association
East Rutherford, New Jersey 07073
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993