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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WATCHTOWER AFTER PASTOR RUSSELL’S DEATH

The death of Pastor Charles Taze Russell, October 31, 1916, marked a dramatic change in the course of the Bible Student movement.

 

PASTOR RUSSELL’S MINISTRY

During Pastor Russell’s lifetime, he founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and other business entities to further the work of proclaiming “Present Truth” to the world, particularly, the Christian world.

Under his leadership, the Truth message was available to all in the United States, Europe and many other countries.  In his day, he was the most prominent Christian personage in the world.  His sermons were carried weekly in 2,000 of our nation’s leading newspapers.  Through public meetings, the Photo Drama of Creation, books, tracts and newspaper sermons, the Truth message was held up before the people and leaders of professed Christian nations, and it attracted sincere, truth-seeking Christians.  The Photo Drama slide and movie presentation was particularly successful in defending the Bible against rapidly rising skepticism fueled by the evolution theory and other modern philosophies.

His basic message was simple and powerful: First, Jesus died a Ransom for ALL, and all mankind, even unbelievers, would be brought back to life on Paradise Earth during the 1000 year reign of Christ and His bride for a period of learning, discipline, repentance, trial and judgment.  Another main message was that the Lord had returned as a powerful unseen spirit being to establish his kingdom in the Earth.  Bible chronology and prophecy so indicated.  The signs were present:  phenomenal increase in knowledge, amazing increase in travel speed and usage, universal education and enlightenment, removal of the sweat of the brow curse through highly productive modern inventions, the beginnings of Israel’s return to Palestine, and an impending “time of trouble” such as never was since there was a nation.  The year 1914 was to bring a great change in Earth’s affairs, a great time of trouble leading to the full establishment of Christ’s Kingdom in the Earth.  Eventually, Christ’s Kingdom would replace the kingdoms of this world.  Then all mankind, Adam and all of Adam’s children, would experience the promised resurrection based upon Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.  The Kingdom would grant all an opportunity to walk up the highway of holiness to life eternal.  It was a wonderful, Bible-based message of hope for all.

Pastor Russell’s preaching, which exposed Christianity’s old wrongs and false teachings, drew strong opposition and persecution from established, creed-based churches.  They came together to defend themselves and their creeds from truths that were apparent to most thinking Christians.

War was preparing.  In 1897, Pastor Russell wrote a book first titled, “The Day of Vengeance”.  In 1912 the author changed the title to, “The Battle of Armageddon.”  In it he cited page after page of facts detailing how Christian nations were preparing for the Great War ahead, while others proclaimed that war was never again possible among advanced, civilized Christian peoples.

Promptly, in 1914 the predicted war broke out with a fury never before seen in the annals of warfare.  Increased knowledge and liberty had spawned wealth and leisure to levels unknown in the past, allowing vast national expenditures for new death dealing weapons and huge standing armies.  One man became a killing machine the equal of a hundred men in previous wars.  Pastor Russell documented this in advance, giving the so-called Christian nations time to consider and avert the catastrophe.

His warning message from the Lord fell upon deaf ears.  Political and religious leaders alike promoted military service.  Ministers and priests assured young men that if killed they would immediately go straight to Heaven. Jesus’ teachings to love your neighbor and brother were abandoned.  German Christians killed French Christians.  English and American Christians hated and killed German Christians.  The Christian nations and Christian churches lost all credibility to call themselves by the name of Christ, the great Prince of Peace.

During the war, many Bible Students, practicing their sincere Christian beliefs, refused to wear the uniform, carry a gun or otherwise participate in the military killing machines of Christendom.  Governments and churches ridiculed, slandered and persecuted them.  They were jailed, punished and some died rather than compromise their principles.   The war years were difficult years for Bible Students in Europe and America.

AFTER PASTOR RUSSELL’S DEATH

When Pastor Russell died on October 31, 1916, the First World War in the history of mankind was in full progress.  The war that was expected to last two or three months was now in its third year with no end in sight.   The amazingly insightful predictions of Pastor Russell were painfully fulfilled in the angry, patriotic, senseless wounding and slaughter of millions of Christian youths in their prime of life.  God’s vengeance was executed upon the professedly Christian nations of Europe to avenge the spilled blood of the true church down through the Gospel Age. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Rom 12:19)  Their blind anger brought it upon themselves.

At first, America declared itself neutral, maintaining its long-standing policy of not engaging in European wars.  But, following German submarine attacks on American ships carrying goods and arms to Germany’s enemies, on April 6, 1917 America entered the war on the side of Britain and France, despite the President’s campaign promise to keep America out of war.  The first United State’s troops landed in France on June 26, 1917.  Thus, unfortunately, American young men suffered the same fate as Europeans.

By 1916, the Bible Student movement had been shepherded by the wise and faithful leadership of Pastor Russell for 40 years.  It had grown from few into many and its volume of publication had exploded.  A mighty work was accomplished under his faithful stewardship.

With his death in October, a battle for leadership quickly followed.  In Pastor Russell’s will, he carefully provided for the continued publishing of the Truth message by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.  He had selected what he considered to be humble brethren of good character as corporation directors, editorial committee members and trustees of his voting stock.  But his best efforts and intentions could not prevent what followed.

The spirit at headquarters was about to change completely.

A NEW LEADER WITH A DIFFERENT SPIRIT

One of the board members, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, was a lawyer who was active in politics before coming into the Truth.  Before Pastor Russell’s death, the Pastor had dismissed Rutherford from Bethel and provided him funds for a new start in California.  When Pastor Russell died, Rutherford was working as a floorwalker in a department store.  Upon hearing of the Pastor’s death, he telegraphed Bethel and told them to hold everything until he arrived.  At the time of his death, Pastor Russell was in process of making several changes in the Bethel family, and evidently had not yet updated the members of the board of directors.  Since he no longer wanted Rutherford at Bethel, it is doubtful that he wanted him on the board of directors in event of his death.

Rutherford was an extremely forceful, self-seeking character.  By legal tricks and maneuvers, he was able to avoid the will’s intent and directives to establish himself as President of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, contrary to the wishes of the majority of the Board of Directors.  ”Judge” Joseph Franklin Rutherford usurped total control of the Society and became an absolute dictator.  While in legal practice, he had once served briefly as a temporary fill-in judge and thus retained the title of “judge” by which he was often referred to.  He became the Watchtower’s legal counsel in 1907; one year after he was baptized, and the same year Pastor Russell’s will was drawn up (June 29, 1907).   His first contact with the Truth was in 1894.

Rutherford apparently felt that he needed something to establish his position and show leadership capabilities.   He was an accomplished public speaker, a skill honed in politics, but others were also.  He decided to quickly publish a new book and rush it into print without consulting or receiving approval from the editorial committee as required by Pastor Russell’s will.  Two brothers, both from Scranton, Pennsylvania, had developed material for treatises on Ezekiel (George H. Fisher) and Revelation (Clayton J. Woodworth), while Brother Russell still lived.  These were hastily completed and combined into one book published in the summer of 1917, the same year the United States entered the war in Europe (April 6, 1917).  The Judge released the book on July 7, 1917, the same day he announced the replacement of four WTBTS directors, named by Pastor Russell in his will, with directors of his own choosing.  It was falsely proclaimed to be the posthumous work of Pastor Russell.  The book was titled the “Finished Mystery” and presented as Pastor Russell’s long expected “Seventh Volume.”  It was laced with quotations from Pastor Russell’s writings, which supposedly supported the prophetic theories of the two authors.

One theory, held by the authors, was an expectation that the last members of the church class would die violent deaths at the hands of political and religious leaders in response to a brief but powerful Bible Student message critical of their sinful practices.  Consequently, the “Finished Mystery” was written in this spirit and contained harsh condemnations of the government, the churches of America and their leaders.  At the same time, Rutherford admonished all young Bible Students, subject to the draft, to oppose military service as conscientious objectors.

The government took swift action against what it considered sedition.  In May 1918, federal arrest warrants were issued for Rutherford and 6 other top Society officers.  In June 1918, all were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for conspiracy, and sent off to a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.  This was what we might call today a country club prison.  The prisoners were allowed the freedom of walking and talking together while playing tennis.

According to provisions in the WTBTS charter and Pastor Russell’s will, direction of the Society resided in its seven board members who were now in prison.  Bethel workers left behind in Brooklyn without leadership pondered what to do with the now headless Society.

In August 1918, with its principal leaders in prison, the Society shut down the New York office, sold the Brooklyn Tabernacle, closed the Bethel home, and moved back to Pittsburgh.

In March 1919, after the war ended in November 1918, the imprisoned Society leaders were released from prison under $10,000 bail.  To escape his prison sentence, “Judge” Rutherford had made a deal with the government.  So much for dying at the hands of the government and ending the church’s earthly course in glorious martyrdom.

It was agreed that Bible Students should cut out certain offensive pages from the “Finished Mystery”, the false “Seventh Volume”, and that the Society would cease printing them.  Some followed government orders and cut out pages 245 to 254 in chapter 16, titled “Ecclesiasticisms Seven Plagues”, while others ignored the government edict.  This chapter applied the “seven last plagues” of the book of Revelation to Pastor Russell’s 6 Volumes of Studies in the Scriptures and Rutherford’s new “Seventh Volume”.  The “Finished Mystery” was claimed to be the hail plague.  Many Bible Students, fearful that all their Volumes would be confiscated, hid them in cellars and attics or buried them in the back yard.  To this day, some old Volumes retain a musty smell from this treatment.

Young Bible Students were still in prison.  Bible Students everywhere were suffering ignominy in the eyes of their neighbors, while Rutherford was making legal deals to escape prison time.  Many Bible Students were incensed at the perfidy of the man who had wrestled control of the Society from the hands of its legally appointed administrators.

JUDGE’S ACTIONS CAUSE THOUSANDS TO DEPART

Bible Students left the Society by the thousands.  It was no longer the organization they had known under Pastor Russell.  They recognized the noble, holy, spirit of Christ in Pastor Russell, but the new head was an entirely different type of leader: a scheming, cunning man with a dictatorial spirit.  The first book Rutherford published after Pastor Russell’s death, “The Finished Mystery”, was a very different kind of book than Pastor Russell’s “Studies in the Scriptures.”  One doesn’t find the spirit of Pastor Russell in the “The Finished Mystery,” nor does one find the spirit of the “Finished Mystery” in Pastor Russell’s writings.  Some perceived the difference, and some did not.

Among the dissenters who departed, the burning question became, “What do we do now”?   This question has not gone away.

Bible Students expected the Gospel Age to end about 1914 and the earthly kingdom to follow swiftly.   As 1914 approached, Pastor Russell saw that much was still left to be done in God’s plan before the full establishment of God’s Kingdom in Earth and God’s will be done as it is in heaven.  He repeatedly warned the Brethren, but expectations were high and ears dull.  1914 came and went and the Brethren were still here.  The date 1918 seemed likely, and hopes were transferred to that date. It also passed, and hopes were advanced to 1925.  This date also proved to be another disappointment, as have numerous hoped for dates since then.

After Pastor Russell died, the Bible Student movement divided roughly in two in the years 1917 to 1918:   half stayed with the Society, now called the “Channel”, with Rutherford at its head, while the other half, who opposed Rutherford, showed their opposition by leaving.  The dissenters went several different directions as they refused to be associated with an organization dominated by a man of such questionable character as “Judge” Rutherford.  By 1930-32, about 75% had left of their own accord, or had been forced out by Rutherford, who tolerated no opposition of any kind.

In 1922 in Romania, Rutherford ordered the Romanian Brethren to print only material issued from New York.  In 1924, nearly 100% of the Romanian brethren left the Society after Rutherford sold the presses upon which they were printing Truth literature.

Similar actions occurred throughout the Bible Student world.

This sad picture of what happened to the Society following Pastor Russell’s death is the basis for understanding the Bible Student movement since then.

A NEW NAME FOR A NEW MOVEMENT

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and its other legal entities became the sole domain of Rutherford until his death, January 8, 1942.  At a convention in Columbus, Ohio, July 24-30, 1931, Rutherford renamed the Society the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  While we may show compassion towards those deceived by him, we can no longer think of the Society after Rutherford took over, as the Society that Pastor Russell founded.  Under its new autocratic head, it had become the enemy of sincere, truth seeking, thinking Bible Students, whatever other good it might have done.  For Bible Students eager to witness to the Truth in our day, the stigma of the Jehovah’s Witnesses still attaches to us in the public mind and hinders every effort to represent God’s present Truth to the world.

NEW TEACHINGS FOR THE NEW MOVEMENT

While we leave a detailed history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to others, we note their numerous departures from the Truth and its spirit.

Their claim that Pastor Russell is their founder is patently false.  Rutherford founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Some viewed this move as a marketing stroke of genius.

Their belief that only living Jehovah’s Witnesses pass through the time of trouble into the blessings of Christ’s kingdom on Earth assigns all the rest of mankind, over 6 billion living persons, to second death with no further hope for life.  How ludicrous, that one visit from a Jehovah’s Witness constitutes one’s trial for eternal life.  This teaching is a denial of the ransom without directly so stating.   Such a spirit is in total opposition to the spirit of God’s love, justice and merciful plan for all mankind.

Claiming to be walking in the light, book after book presented new teachings, the latest often contradicting the former.  Jehovah’s Witnesses had to read the last edition of the Watchtower magazine to know what was currently accepted as truth.

Some notions were particularly revolting.  Since all of mankind not converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (over 99.9 percent) was expected to die the second death in Armageddon, this would leave the earth almost void of population.  Thus it was taught that the “Jonadab” class, Jehovah Witness couples, would re-populate it.

Eventually, in 1939, the Ransom was totally denied by refusing Adam a resurrection.

The Society’s departure from the Truth did not happen all at once.  It was a gradual dilution and perversion of the Truth by substituting new teachings for old.  After publishing the “Finished Mystery” in 1917, Rutherford published a book, apparently of his own writing, in October 1, 1921 titled, “The Harp of God.”  In general, this book held quite closely to the Truth, but made the rash speculation that, “Millions Living Will Never Die.”

For a while the Judge continued to publish Pastor Russell’s “Studies in the Scriptures.”   Then, in 1924, he ceased their publication.   In October 1920, Rutherford re-published Pastor Russell’s “Tabernacle Shadows” along with 23 pages of his own added footnote changes to Pastor Russell’s text.  These expressed his own, often contrary Tabernacle views.

In 1919, the Society published the green “Reprints” of the Watch Tower magazine, beginning with the first edition in 1879 and including issues up to 1919.  In 1920, the remaining supply was sold to the Pastoral Bible Institute, and made available to the Brethren for $2.50.

A NEW FINANCIAL OPERATION

Note the sharp contrast between the Society’s financial operation under Pastor Russell and under Judge Rutherford.  Under Pastor Russell’s administration, the Society received voluntary donations and used these to finance the witness work, giving away free tracts and selling books at cost or slightly above.  Under Rutherford, the Society was organized as a large printing operation to cheaply print books and sell them for a handsome profit.  The Society was no longer solely dependant upon contributions from supporters, as in the past.  It now generated funds from a well-organized and profitable book selling operation.  Labor costs were almost non-existent, since brethren volunteered their time and labor for subsistence compensation.  This change funded Rutherford’s ambitious expansion plans, and freed the Society from money worries.

The dissenters, who walked out, had neither Pastor nor Society.  Those who remained had no Pastor, but they had what they viewed as the “Channel”.  The proposition was put forth that even though bad characters might prevail, the Society is still the “Channel”.  It reminds one of Papacy’s past claims.  Many have labored long and hard, enslaved to the false notion of “Channelism.”

The dissenters on the other hand were on their own, cast adrift upon a sea of uncertainty.  What do we do now?  The sheep were scattered without a shepherd.  Yet our Good Shepherd is always there, watching over his true church even unto the end.   God always provides.  Hence, the Bible Students reformed and still exists today, just like the early Watchtower Bible Students, with the same doctrinal beliefs and the same love for Jehovah and each other, as well as the hope for ALL mankind for a future period of learning and trial on Paradise Earth during the 1,000 year reign of Christ and His body members.

15 comments to A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WATCHTOWER AFTER PASTOR RUSSELL’S DEATH

  • trutell hovere

    Joseph F Rutherford was the man of din who was foretold by PAUL to enter the temple of the GOD and sit down in it thus proclaiming himself to be GOD which he did by proclaiming the watchtower society of 1883 to be Jehovahs Witnesses without any authority from GOD almighty, as in old testament times through nis recognised prophet. Rutherford committed THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION as foretold by the prophet DANIEL! All who followed him are DOOMED!

    • Bret (B.S)

      Truetell
      And now you are speaking as a prophet proclaiming specific events as fulfillment….
      I would be very careful that sounds like the pot calling the kettle….

      • Bret (B.S)

        I would agree that Rutherford was a very dangerous man who found a way to mislead many but we would never want to put ourselves in his class by claiming and interpretation like he did..

    • Jacqueline (Bible student)

      Truetell hello and thank you for your comment. I admit Rutherford thought he had power and felt Bethel was the house of God. But the man of sin would have a long life. It had started in John’s day and would span centuries.
      But the description of this man of sin to me best fit the Great Papal system that had a long terrible reign.( Not a particular pope but the Papacy and it’s Catholic system or universal religion) You couldn’t buy or sell for centuries if you weren’t a part of the obedient to this system. He even changed laws and seasons.
      Every king had to bow to Papacy until the Pope was imprisoned and the French revolution was in full swing.
      I enjoyed reading and learning about this in Vol 3 of studies in the scriptures. It will intrigue you and any witness as we have a background.

      This is the link here for the discussion on “Anti- Christ”. http://www.friendsofjehovahswitnesses.com/2010/07/17/who-is-the-antichrist/

      This is a link for discourses: http://bibleresources.info/category/articles/antichrist/

  • jake

    Thanks for your responses! I have talked to some current JWs about the teaching of a “ransom for all” and they know nothing about it or that Russell believed. When I first met with the breathren, I was astonished to learn of such a wonderful teaching, and that it is in full harmony with the scriptures.

    • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

      Jake, it literally brought me to my knees with tears as I realized Jehovah was not a cruel monster but this was the best way to do it and Ransom Adam thus Eve who was deceived. Why should mankind pay for what he can’t help?.
      What an act of Love on our FATHERS part and I thank him evety day for letting me find a People that had Divine truths about his great sacrifice of letting his only begotten Son die in our place. It overwhelms me as I talk about it now. To be taught God is not fair all my life. Take Care, Jake and welcome.

  • jake

    Hello there,

    Could anyone direct me to the first instance where Rutherford wrote against the idea of the “ransom for all”?

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Jake – I need to do some more research on this. Here are some of my notes.

      G. Russell Pollock recalled a time – almost certainly in the mid-1920s (not later than 1928) – when JFR put R.H. Barber up to giving a talk saying that the Ransom would not cover everybody. The trial balloon got roundly shot down! So JFR delayed a few more years before openly changing it.

      In 1939, the Ransom was totally denied by refusing Adam a resurrection. (I need to find documentation for this)

      Rolando Rodriquez said, “It’s a difficult task to pin point exactly when the current teaching of the ransom as it stands originated. As the Judge’s teachings evolved with time, and he often contradicted himself in his writings from article to article. So you would have to follow his logic and reasoning (if that is possible). His contradictory views were refined as the years went by. When he died he left a contradictory mess of doctrines that had to be cleaned up by succeeding leaders of the Society (namely Franz). But if I had to guess WHEN the ransom began to change, it started with the new light on the “The Ten Virgins”, followed by “the sheep and the goats. In the February 15th, 1924 Watchtower article titled “The Destiny of the Goats” here starts the downward spiral of error, then in the March 1st, 1924 article “The Ransom For All” he continues to refine his view. You can start here and see how he began to deny the ransom to certain individuals and groups.”

    • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

      Jake, as Br. Peter mentioned it is hard to pin it down. As late as 1960 in Birmingham Alabama we taught a Ransom for All. Circuit overseers and persons giving Sunday discourses compiled their own talks and presented their thoughts on scriptures. Many saw clearly that Adam was ransomed thus all.
      The early 1970’S they began giving stricter outlines with no room to add extra material and thoughts. By 1990’s or so the talks were complete manuscripts and if you believed Adam was ransomed there was no place to insert and present this thought. I have always been in a home where there were elders and saw the suppression of entering your own thoughts.
      I mentioned a Ransom of Adam and all in 1995 and was reprimanded openly by the Circuit overseer before all.
      This was in Gary, In where an elder had openly taught a Ransom for Adam.
      So you see it was a progression and only when ALL talks were manuscripts did You see this totally disappear. Rather than an official date it depended on the region you lived in and all the old heads died out. Pockets believed until then.
      Just my little real experience observation. Take Care.

  • Jacqueline

    If you have attended the Jehovah witnesses convention for this year or intend to go, could you listen to or tape the talk about the history of the Bible Students and the witnesses.
    I received a call from a brother (JW) that attended the convention Friday and he asked what did I say was the name of my group? I said Bible Students. He said there problems between them isn’t it? I explained only witnesses shun us that we don’t shun witnesses even if family members.
    Then another person reported the society says the Bible Students don’t exist anymore.
    So somewhere in between lies the truth of what was said.
    Can anyone clarify for the site? Thank you

  • hank

    To Miroslav

    Vol IVpage 612,”The Secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. Psa.25:14. We may presume therefore that his representatives, the fallen angels, are frequently at the little Conferences and Bible studies, etc., of God’s truly consecrated people, to learn something of the divine plan.

    Satan and his fallen angels are in dense darkness. And would be a waste of time trying to understand anything of light.

    But the Asv at Psa, 25:8 shows very encourageing words for those who are children of light.

    Good and upright is Jehovah: Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way.

    Who will Jehovah teach? Psa. 25:9,”The meek he will guide in justice; and the meek will he teach his way.” Verse 11,”For thy name’s sake, O Jehovah. 15,”Mine eyes are ever towards Jehovah.” 14,”The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear him.”

    Hank

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Miroslav…I enjoyed it!

  • Thanks to the Lord that the faithful brethren hearkened after the Pastors death this wise Biblical advice of the Pastor Russell:

    “What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall He teach in the way that He shall choose.” Psa.
    25:12.

    “Beloved, our advice to you in these perilous times, when error is taking on its most baneful and deceitful
    forms, and when it is finding its most active agents amongst false brethren and sisters in your very midst,
    and when fidelity to truth, therefore, occasions the severing of some of the tenderest social ties you have
    ever known, even among those with whom you once held sweet converse as you walked together to the
    house of God—yes, in these times let us again urge the counsel of Paul—`Continue thou in the things
    which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them’; for it is
    written (John 6:45), `They shall be all taught of God.’ ” R. 1320, c.2, p.6.

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