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J. F. Rutherford Believed that the Idea of Christian Character Development was a Delusion from Satan

A coluporter in the days of Bro. Russell, Bible Student Elder, G. Russell Pollock told of how JFR ridiculed character development from the platform, pronouncing it ‘char-AK’-teer’ and saying, “You don’t have a character, you are a character.” The stress Bible Students were putting on character development, JFR evidently felt a need to counter it. Others have spoken similarly of their observations.

There is a lengthy article in the May 1st, 1926 Watch Tower, where JF Rutherford dismisses the whole concept of building a Christ-like character: The name of the article is “Character or Covenant – Which?” It’s 6 pages long. You can find it here: – May 1, 1926 – page 131, no. 9. http://www.scribd.com/doc/42375551/Watchtower-1926 – There is a quote somewhere (can’t locate it right now) where the Judge states that “Character development is a tool of the devil” and stresses witnessing as the Christians duty.

In this WatchTower article [May 1, 1926, Character or Covenant -- Which] (you can download it from http://www.jw-archive.org) in attacking ‘character development’ Rutherford attacks a straw man. The premise of the article and the attacks he makes are on those who believe they can be ‘perfected’ in this life and this is the attitude he suggests that those who left the society had. Rutherford further denotes that we ARE a character, not that we possess one. He then compares the straw man argument regarding ‘character development’ with that of the immortal soul.

This is a very strange argument as I do not know anyone who would suggest that ‘character developement’ is like perfecting an immortal soul.

In paragraph 14 of the article the question is asked, “Is it a proper expression therefore to say that a Christian must develop a character pleasing to God before he can be received into the kingdom? Such is not a correct expression, because it implies that the Christian must develop something to a point where God will approve him, that he must do this by his own efforts, and that the thing developed is something separate and distinct from himself.” Rutherford’s reasoning here is strange. Why is he attacking ‘character development’ as if it were an ‘immortal soul’? Why is he suggesting that those who believe in this think that they must do this by themselves, of their own accord or will?

His reasoning continues in paragraph 16, “At the time one is begotten of the holy spirit he becomes a new create. He is then a character. He is a Christian. He does not possess a Christian nor does he possess a character. He is now in the rough. Must this Christian, this man, this new creature, this character, undergo a change, or must this Christian develop a character to perfection before God can receive him?”

After quoting Romans 8:29 Rutherford states, “This does not even intimate that Christ Jesus must develop a character and that the members of his body must develop each a character.”

Rutherford argues a straw man argument by again responding to 1 John 3:2 and the spiritual resurrection change that the anointed will receive by stating, “The Christian’s individual effort does not bring about this change of appearance.” I don’t think any Brethren had stated that they make this spiritual body resurrection change themselves.

He continues…”Many Christian have been led to believe that morality and chastity constitute the character of a person which the Lord will approve. That is the world’s standard. That is the standard that the enemy has induced nominal Christendom to set up. . . . The devil has induced nominal Christians to believe that if they are moral and chaste and do not commit other unlawful acts God will approve them and take them to heaven as soon as they die. This is entirely a misconception. The true Christian must have a far higher standard than that.

In the 24th paragraph he said, Jesus was a perfect character when on the earth. He did not have a character to develop; he was a character, and he was perfect ….” Did Rutherford forget that Jesus was perfected by the things that he suffered? (Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:21). Rutherford’s response to this was, “The answer is, No. Jesus entered into a covenant with his Father to do his Father’s will. He was put the the most severe tests, and under these tests he proved his unswerving loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness to God…. He met all these tests and thereby compltely learned obedience?”

I can’t seem to follow his logic here and not sure how any of this is an argument against what the Brethren had said previous to this ‘new light’.

While arguing against “character development” Rutherford argues, “the Christian must increase in knowledge, which means to have a clear perception of the truth. He must walk in the light, which light increases from day to day because it is God’s light. This will require that he shall faithfully study the Word of God in the light of the unfolding prophecies and not conclude that he shall reach a certain point when no more light will be given on God’s word.”

Again…another straw man argument. No brethren believe that no more light is given on God’s word…although the WT society seems to be fearful of ‘running ahead of Jehovah’ if one should have ‘new light’ that the society does not have based on Scriptural principles and research.

In the entire article Rutherford sets up this ‘straw man’ argument about this ‘character development’, and then applies much of the fallacious arguments to those they had formerly associated with, as if only they themselves were attempting to follow God’s will and proceed in the light.

The Harp of God was published before this ‘new light’ in 1927.

Brothers Emil and Otto Sadlack from Germany wrote a chapter in their book, “Desolations of the Sanctuary” in the 1930s on this very topic of Rutherford change of view on “character development.” The article contains not only quotes from the article above, but also other quotations, poems, and letters that were published on this through the later 1920′s.  The article contains not only quotes from the article above, but also other quotations, poems, and letters that were published on this through the later 1920′s.

Here is what they wrote. Keep in mind many of the WTs are the translated from the German editions. At some point in the future I hope to have all of these quotations updated to the English versions.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER

“Character cannot be developed wholly without trial. It is like a plant: at first it is very tender; it needs an abundance of the sunshine of God’s love; frequent watering with the showers of his grace; much cultivating through the applied knowledge of his character as a good foundation for faith and inspiration to obedience; and then, when thus developed under these favorable conditions, it is ready for the pruning hand of discipline, and is also able to endure some hardness. And little by little, as strength and character is developed, the tests applied to it serve only to develop more strength, beauty and grace, until it is finally fixed, developed, established, perfected—through suffering.” (C. T. Russell in Manna of Jan. 20) “If we do not develop this character now, the moral character of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will not have a share in the Messianic kingdom.” (Extract from one of C. T. Russell’s sermons published in the newspapers.)

* * *

“… Let the dreaming and talking of ‘developing a perfect character’ cease. Let all Christians be active in the performance of their covenant…”

“Satan (!) has turned the minds of millions into the channel of supposed ‘character development’…”( J. F. Rutherford in W.T. 1926:136; 1927:199)

“I have just been in a three-day convention where four elders took up about four-fifths of the time and never once mentioned the kingdom work. They talked on character development all the time, making a few excuses for the Watch Tower, … until I reminded the brethren that they were fifteen years back in the harvest and not in the kingdom at all.” (Letter from a Pilgrim Brother, W.T. 1926:286)

* * *

Note, beloved, the “development”—in the teaching of the Watch Tower Society and backward development of the Christian character? Do you note how the most sacred of Christian principles and feelings are reviled and declared useless? Read carefully and with seriousness, as earnest Bible students, the words of Brother Russell cited above, and compare them with the two other citations of modern Bible students. That which was high and holy, yes, the highest duty in Brother Russell’s estimation, is ridiculed and put away with a wave of a hand as “dreamings” by his ‘successor,” who continually claims to have received brighter light since 1918! Oh, what an evil performance!

“Every true child of God must have a definite individual character…” Brother Russell says in the manna of September 17 in contrast to the present president of the Society, and we do not doubt for moment today the correctness of this thought. “In the development of a character in the likeness of their Redeemer they are daily ascending higher and are made fit for the heavenly kingdom…” Brother Russell writes in another place (W.T.R4445 204445). Until the appearance of the Watch Tower article “Character or Covenant?” discourses and essays upon character-development were much appreciated. The Manna texts, which treat of this almost exclusively, were read with pleasure until then, and expositions by serving Pilgrim brethren and others were especially enjoyed when they treated of character development in Christ. But when the president of the Watch Tower Society commanded: “Let the dreaming and talking of developing of a perfect character cease!” then all the (favorable) talking and writing concerning it ceased immediately—amongst those who obey blindly. What an authoritative order can accomplish! Do we still marvel over the blind obedience of the catholic world to the decisions and regulations of their papal head?

The article “Character or Covenant?” is only directed to this, to divert the Lord’s faithful from their chiefest duty, i.e., preparing themselves, and to give them instead, as questionable compensation, outward service and still more service and colporteur’s work. Yes, this service is even said to be the “treasure in the earthen vessel” of 2 Corinthians 4:7, according to the present teaching of the Society! Nothing shall be said against activity in the Lord’s service, but the activity should only proceed according to scriptural methods, in harmony with the truth. Our protest is aimed against the mockery and destruction of our first duty—the development of Christian character. It is not our thought that perfection of this character is attained before our course is finished, but nothing less than perfection is the goal for which we must strive, if we would obtain the glorious inheritance of the overcomers.

Brother Russell found some excellent words for this thought, as shown in the Manna of June 29, and we recommend a careful re-reading of this text. Wherever in recent times the Watch Tower contemplates character formation, it is only done in a bitingly-ironical, contemptuous, disdainful manner. They cannot do enough to slander this most essential activity of a Christian.

Let us hear some of these statements: “Many who have made a consecration to do the will of God have been induced to believe that by the ‘development of character’ pleasing to the Lord they could gain the kingdom as overcomers.

How absolutely unfounded in the Scriptures is such a conclusion! This has been one of the subtle tricks of the adversary to ensnare the consecrated.”

“But the devil deceives many and induces them to believe that by developing a character, so-called, that will entitle them to a place in God’s kingdom.”

“To teach, however, that by character improvement or development the Christian can be an ‘overcomer’ is to teach a delusion and a snare of the devil” (W.T. 1927:195, 199, 201, par. 4, 35, 44).

We refer to the slanders against Christian character-development reprinted on page 147, also to the articles in W.T. 1927:38, etc. (par. 34) 94, 95; 1926:259. Even in poems character-development is being reviled. The author of the poem appearing in the German W.T. 1927:288, which begins with the words: “Why do you labor, oh melancholy soul, in a false holiness for inward beauty?” seemingly does not know that there are also Christians who are laboring for this inward beauty in true holiness without being melancholy. “Let character-development rest now” (!) he tells the readers and closes his poem, so to speak, with a glorification of the “defects” which Jesus is to cover! Along with the Christian character-development, this primary condition for entrance into the heavenly kingdom, important truths, etc., are also reviled, as for example, the Christian’s longing for his heavenly home. such a longing is described as selfishness. We read: “It is a well-known fact that at the conventions held by those of present truth during the past several years, while the friends have talked much about the kingdom, the common theme of the conversation has been: ‘When are we going home? When shall we be relieved of earth’s woes and enter the kingdom and rule with the Lord?’ Has not the motive of both classes mentioned above, of those in present truth, been largely selfish?” (W.T. 1926:325; see also 1927:38).

In order to correctly understand the sense of the above words it is necessary also to read the last part of the preceding paragraph where it says: “…and, second, those who have accepted present truth and have really liked it, and have looked forward to the time when they might be taken to heaven and be relieved of all their earthly toils, and there enjoy forever ease and comfort.”

Is it no longer remembered what was communicated on the evening of Brother Russell’s funeral services (by the present president!) of the departed brother’s longing desire? (W.T.R6012 206012). And how is this ardent longing for union with the heavenly bridegroom today put down as selfishness and reviled! Was not the above mentioned “common theme of conversation at the conventions” thus used because it was “from the Lord,” as it is always asserted? Then from the Lord—and now selfishness?

We know that an ever greater importance is being attributed to the year 1918 for very specific reasons. This year is to mark the line between Elijah and Elisha, the new president assures us, between the unorganized and the organized church and—between the antiquated knowledge and the “brighter, better light.” Ostensibly the Lord came to His temple in that year and brought new revelations to His own. But in the matter of character-development even the fetishism of the mysterious year 1918 has not been able to supplant the old view (now called”snare, deception of Satan”). For, long after the Lord ostensibly came to His temple the formation of Christian character was described in the Watch Tower as absolutely necessary! For Example:.”the perfection of character here pointed out as the proper and desirable aim of all Christians, and prepared for by the Lord through the giving of his inspired word, should be the mark toward which all the soldiers of the cross running in the race for the great prize should bend their energies.” (W.T. 1919:255) Yes, they even chose a text for the year 1923 which had reference to formation of character! We read:

“The test for the year 1923 relates to the transformation of the Christian into the likeness of our Lord and Master, Christ Jesus. The complete transformation into His character likeness is the earnest desire of every one of his faithful followers.” (W.T.1923:6) And still later an article began with the words: “The new creature must grow into or develop the character-likeness of the Lord, his Head.” (W.T. 1923:184)

And later still, in answer to a question, it is deduced that the purpose of all study should be, to form a character in the likeness of our Lord Jesus, etc. (German W.T. 1923:336). In 1924, six years after 1918, in a special article (W.T. 1924:249) it is explained what character really means.

Also in German W.T. 1921:25; 1925:201; and W.T. 1923:217-218, character-formation is praised in articles, letters and in conventions, although supposedly the Lord had already come with the true light in 1918 ! Why did He leave His own so long in “Satan’s snare” (!) to form character? Or had He given the “true light” to the “official” management, which kept it hidden under a bushel for over seven years, for fear the friends might conceive it to be darkness? But when the year 1925 had passed by, and proved the “work of the Lord” to be man’s work, then it was suddenly said that character-development was ‘dreamings,” a “snare of Satan” and similar things. Thus they spoke with biting mockery against the blessed “activity,” after having highly praised this “development” only a few weeks previously. Yes, they were bold enough to assert here also that the meaning of character-development had not been understood before! And then the most poisonous arrows were shot at the hitherto praised activity. The former teaching of the Christian character formation was said to be “a cunning move of the adversary to ensnare the consecrated,” a “deception of Satan,” “delusion of Satan,” “snare of the devil,” ‘Satan’s work of delusion,” that “in this condition (character-formation) one was supporting Satan’s organization and was a part of this world,” etc., in the same song of reviling. dear Brother Russell: Do you hear what your “successor” says about that which you stood up for? And yet it was “officially” declared, after you had just closed your eyes, that “the Watch Tower will continue to publish only that which is in harmony with what ‘that Servant’ has hereto fore given to the ‘household of faith.’”( W.T.R6024 206024, top.) Do you know that according to the judicial opinion of your “successor” you have been ensnared by “a cunning move of the adversary” for half a century?

Oh, they knew and know very well what character-development is. But they wanted to cover their own hollowness with outward activity. And an attack on the preparation was already made in 1927. We read in a letter published in the German Watch Tower of 1927:176: “How precious (!) is the thought also… (that) we need not be anxious about our preparation, since the fruit, consisting in the proclamation, includes all other fruits as a matter of course!” We entreat you to read a few striking Watch Tower expositions, as for example W.T. 1926:136, par. 46; p.232, par. 53; p. 278, par. 34; 1927:184, 195, 199-201.

The attempt to prove that character cannot be developed, because we do not have a character but are a character, is quite threadbare. The fact that a growth, a development must take place within us, cannot be upset by the Watch Tower definition of “character.” We are not here turning so much against the definition of this word, but, above all, against the derision of the life of sanctification, which until recently has been designated by all (the author of that Watch Tower article also!) as the means of character-development. For that matter, the thought of possession of character is quite customary in our colloquial language. By character we understand the sentiment, the direction of the mind, the being, the sum of a person’s qualities; in the present case, of a Christian. Qualities and virtues are certainly a part of our being, but we say rightly that as a person we possess or have them.

The virtues of a Christian we find also pictured as fruits of the Spirit in the Scriptures (Galatians 5; 22). And just as the fruits grow and ripen, so also these our spiritual virtues, which make up the Christian character, must be cared for, formed; they must grow and be increased after the pattern of Jesus Christ. Is it not this process which is called character-development? The Scriptures continually speak of a development, a growth about and in us. We read, for example, in

DOS163 Ephesians 4:15: “…But speaking the truth in love (we) may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, Christ.” Read also 2 Corinthians 4:16; Hebrews 5:12, 13; 6:1. The virtues of the Spirit which form the character are the results of impressions upon the “New Creation” or mind (2 Corinthians 5:17) which again is synonymous with the treasure in the earthen vessel, the “inward man” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16). The Watch Tower simply ignores the scripturally proven growth and development of the New Creation. It has forgotten that the begotten New Creature must grow and increase till its birth, just as in the natural process. Yes, in a preceding paragraph of the article mentioned, it takes it upon itself to express the wholly unscriptural thought that the New Creation dies the sacrificial death! That which is sacrificed is, of course, eternally dead.

Even if we consider the character as something which is, and not as something we possess or have, the same obligation of a moral Christian life and walk results. The old nature—flesh, because born of the flesh—is of no use in producing the life in God (John 6:63; Romans 7:18; 8:8). The spirit-begotten one has to reckon himself dead toward that which concerns the power of the old nature (Romans 6:11). From this results the obligation to walk in the spirit (in newness of life, in the light) i.e., to make progress in the Christian life—to overcome, by striving to subdue all resistance of the flesh and eventually through Christ conquering it. Only thus can the spirit-begotten become in reality a New Creature on the spirit plane. This walk, this growing or progressing in the spirit, demands that we set all our thinking, feeling and willing wholly in harmony with God. The thoughts of God, the love of God, the will of God must become ours.

Only then are we in the truth, in Christ, who is the Truth. All the expressions of this our new life in Christ, i.e., our work in word and deed, must be in harmony with our inner life, else Christ, the truth, is not in us. Our Lord demands a clear decision—either cold or hot. We cannot sow in the one sphere and expect to reap in the other; either you are sowing to the flesh, and you will reap destruction, or you are sowing to the spirit and will reap life eternal. Only walking in the spirit will preserve us from the destructive lusts of the flesh. The walking—not the standing still! Standing still is retrogression.

The Lord Jesus, also the apostles, put the highest value upon our being in Christ, our life in Christ (John 6:56; 14:20; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 13:20, 21; 1 John 2:6, 29). To walk in the spirit means a continuous growing into His likeness, His purity and glory, into His power of love. The spirit of Christ dwells only in a pure heart and abides only there where it can work out its results.

The writer of the Watch Tower article in which Christian character-development is derided, seems to have no conception of the holy inner life of a Christian. Anyone who interests himself in the life in God, will not permit himself to be carried away to a derision of that which we call character-development.

“Character or Covenant?” is not a matter of choice, for they co-exist. The fulfillment of the covenant by sacrifice—wherein does it consist? Is it not in the development of the Christian character? The covenant by sacrifice is not fulfilled solely by (outward) “works in His name” (many will once refer to these; comp. Matthew 7:22), but in a continuous growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And with this the outward activity will not be wanting, but this comes voluntarily, form an inner constraint of love, love to the Lord, not from ambition, or to please man or an organization. such Christian love qualifies for every sacrifice, even to the giving up of life itself—even for the enemy. A love which is not capable of this is not heavenly, divine love.

We have often experienced how quickly friends obey the Society. some who had not yet read the article “Character or Covenant,” when asked whether the former views concerning character-development are correct, affirmed this and declared a contrary assertion to be error. But after they had read the “Watch Tower” in which character-development is condemned as “dreamings,” they hastened to throw the former view overboard. That which had been accepted as truth for so long, was now put down as “dreamings,” because of the Watch Tower’s dogmatic assertion.

Now character-development has only a wretched, hangdog existence; only a “little” flock shows any further interest in this rejected essential of the Christian life. But they have chosen the better part. Dear brethren in Christ, do not let anyone take from you this blessed privilege of character-formation, even though the “only channel,” or an angel from heaven would rob you of it. Consider, if character-formation actually is what the newest desolators of the sanctuary teach, i.e., error, “dreamings,” a “snare of Satan,” then the apostle would also have been in this “snare of Satan!” Then Brother Russell also, so long glorified above measure by the same men who now speak so contemptuously of character-development, would himself have been a foolish dreamer. Of course, we know that Brother Russell is continually losing in importance as compared with his present “successor,” as already shown in our treatment of the new adaption of the type Elijah-Elisha.

The dictum “Character-development is dreaming” has ripened another “development.” We will not here make a detailed statement of certain things which here and there have occurred even in consecrated circle. They are the natural consequences of a cessation in character-formation, of the walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16,17). Such shameful occurrences explain why such a strong assault is being made against character-development, which, of course, requires quite a struggle against the flesh and the world. the anathema against the striving for the character-likeness of Jesus Christ is an encouragement to an easy life and shallow walk. How significant in this connection are the words of a Sister in central Germany, who joyfully said to a prominent brother: “Oh, how happy am I now, that character-formation is unnecessary!”—As a sad indication of the cessation of character-formation we would also mention the words of a brother devoted to the Society which he unhesitatingly addressed to a dear Sister, but who is (as it is said) “in opposition to the work”: “I cannot love you, I must hate you, the world is dearer to me than you are!” Are these the fruits of the Spirit?

We must continually emphasize anew that every error brings new errors as a result. the virtues of a Christian actually are not prized as highly today by many Bible students, since the cessation of character-development, as they were formerly. And as the boundary between “this world” and “our world” is not so clearly seen since the cessation of character-development, therefore an entirely different meaning is given to the conception “World” (see example, 1 John 2:15-17). Now it is said, that to visit pleasure resorts, dance halls, etc., or to yield oneself to an immoral manner of life, does not belong to the “world” which must be overcome! (W.T. 1927:198-199).

We would ask: What then is the world? If such things do not belong to “this world” where do they belong? Perhaps to the results of the lessons of “God’s organization?” But we will understand all this when we recognize the causes of such erroneous doctrines; they love this world in many things and do not desire to specially trouble themselves to obey the admonition of Romans 12:2. We dislike to mention certain things here. The deciding question above all is: What is truth? But one thing is certain: Just as it is necessary today to preach conversion to the members in Christendom long dead, so it will be necessary soon to preach conversion (turning) from the way of “this world” to many Bible students.

We put to all the friends of the “Watch Tower,” especially the leaders, the solemn question: “Does not the character-formation of a Christian have to do with his sanctification? Did you not all understand it thus formerly? Do you not know that we still understand it thus today? Does it not come to your consciousness at all, that in your fight against character-development you are at the same time fighting against that which once you called with us the life of sanctification, and which we still call thus?”

Who will further cultivate the very necessary character-formation in Christ? who will espouse it? Who will do it, even though the number who love this work is very small? Who? Let him step forth and separate himself from those who desolate the moral integrity of the life of sanctification, who seek to draw us aside from the holiest duties of a Christian. Do not hesitate, servant of God! Tear the restraining bands, by the grace of God, and find the way to Him who has and is the Truth. and if you are in doubt, and ask: “What is the truth?” then pray to Him to enlighten you, for He Himself is Truth..

Contributed by Jeff Mezra

2 comments to J. F. Rutherford Believed that the Idea of Christian Character Development was a Delusion from Satan

  • Frank

    Rutherford’s hidden agenda was twofold:

    1) He was intensely envious of the warm feeling the friends had for CT Russell. Whatever Russell’s failings, he had a warm, kind spirit, as evidenced in his outlook that the majority of mankind would, in the end, be saved. Rutherford was NOT liked by the friends in general – in many cases he was feared. I heard this from eyewitnesses who lived in those times. So this was an oblique attack on what he felt was vestiges of Russell’s influence.

    2) Rutherford was described as a tyrant, a bully, and as cruel and abusive – none of which is acceptable in a true Christian. “Works” do not make up for sin. it is interesting that he urges the brethren to “preach more” (i.e. sell more books) – but there is no record that he went from door-to-door himself. If he didn’t – how could he claim to be a follower of Jesus?

    3) Ephesians 4:17-31 discusses the vital need to put on a “New Personality” (another word for character) Read this, and the corresponding passage at Colossians 3: 8-14

    Just these two passages DESTROY Rutherford’s entire argument.

    On the other hand, as Jesus observed, the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. So Rutherford’s writings give one a very good insight as to what what going on inside.

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