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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


A Change in Administration Tests God's Servants

TOM: Did J. F Rutherford succeed Pastor Russell immediately as president of the Society?

JOHN: No, he did not, Tom. For the two months of November and December of 1916, in order to keep the work going, a transitional administration of the Society was set up in the hands of an executive committee of three, Vice-President Ritchie, Secretary-Treasurer Van Amburgh and legal adviser Rutherford. a

This was indicative of the uncertainty that existed in the minds of even those of the governing body of Jehovah's witnesses of that time. It was a foregleam, too, of the years of crisis that now set in, producing within the organization the pressures of selfish opposition, divine judgment and cleansing. Always willing and ready to find occasion to disrupt the organization of God's people and to interfere with their proclamation of the Kingdom good news, Satan himself immediately began to arouse among some in the organization's headquarters at Brooklyn a spirit of rebellion.b These were all evidences of the critical period of mourning and reproach that threatened the very existence of the organization. Jehovah's witnesses knew a time of trouble was ahead, but Jehovah mercifully hid from their eyes the full extent of the things that must be endured during this crucial time of judgment upon God's house.

The next regular annual meeting of the corporation was scheduled for January, 1917, which, that year, had the chief business of electing the president to replace C. T. Russell. There were 600 in attendance at this meeting on January 6, with approximately 150,000 votes, represented either in person or by proxy, to be cast.

TOM: How did one obtain votes in the corporation, John?

JOHN: In those days every $10 contributed to the Society entitled its donor to one voting share. That is why, before this, Pastor Russell himself would cast 25,000 votes at most of these corporation meetings. He had contributed in his lifetime around $250,000. When he died, of course, according to law his votes died with him. So these 150,000 votes, active for the meeting in 1917, represented that those holding them had contributed, at one time or another, $1,500,000 to the Society for its preaching work. This voting method was amended in 1944, eliminating entirely this method of acquiring votes. c Now each member has only one vote.

At this historic corporation meeting J. F. Rutherford was unanimously elected


president. W. E. Van Amburgh was elected secretary-treasurer and A. N. Pierson of Connecticut was elected vice-president. d The next day, Sunday, the newly elected president gave his first address in this capacity when he talked to 1,500 who were in Pittsburgh to attend a convention arranged for the occasion. Thus Rutherford commenced his administration for the Society, which he was to supervise for twenty-five years.

TOM: Perhaps at this point you could tell us a little more about Rutherford personally.


JOHN: Very well. Joseph Franklin Rutherford e was born on November 8, 1869, on a farm in Morgan County, Missouri, of parents who were Baptists. At the age of sixteen his father consented to his attending college to study law, provided he would earn his own way, since his father was a farmer and could not afford to assist him. An additional requirement was that he must pay for a hired hand to take his place on the farm. His father thought this would be impossible for the young man to do and would therefore force him to stay on the land to learn farming. Rutherford was determined, however, and was able to secure a loan on his own word that enabled him not only to go to college and law academy but also to pay for a hired hand to replace him on the farm.

In this way Rutherford earned his own way through school. He learned shorthand and continued as an expert up to his dying day. During later years many of the thoughts that occurred to him for The Watch Tower were written rapidly first in shorthand and later transcribed. While still in school he became a court stenographer, which enabled him to finish paying for his course. In this way, by taking down trial proceedings, he was gaining practical experience while, at the same time, he was engaged in the study of law.

After completing his academy education he spent two years under the tutorship of Judge E. L. Edwards, and finally, at the age of twenty, became the official reporter for the courts of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit in Missouri. At twenty-two he was admitted to the Missouri bar and began to practice law at Boonville, Missouri, where he became a trial lawyer with the firm of Draffen and Wright. Later he served four years as public prosecutor for Boonville and still later as a special judge in this same Fourteenth Judicial District of Missouri. In this capacity, if the regular judge took ill, being unable to take court, Rutherford was called on to sit as a substitute judge, which he did in a number of instances. f

For fifteen years Judge Rutherford continued as a lawyer in the state of Missouri. He carried on a successful practice and later became recognized as a special lawyer to handle court cases before the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. In 1894 Rutherford came in touch with Watch Tower Society representatives.

LOIS [interrupting]: Yes, I remember. Maria read us a letter he wrote to the Society. g

JOHN: That's right. Then, twelve years later, in 1906, he dedicated his life to Jehovah God, thus becoming an ordained Christian minister as well as an attorney.

In 1907 Rutherford became the Watch Tower Society's legal counselor at the Pittsburgh headquarters to handle its court cases. And at the same time he was sent out to give public talks as one of the pilgrim representatives of the Society. h In


1909, when the Society transferred its headquarters to New York, you will remember, Judge Rutherford was used to negotiate the matter, and to do so made application and was admitted to the New York bar as a recognized lawyer for that state. It was in this year on May 24 that Rutherford was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.


TOM: When Rutherford became president of the Society did he do anything to get the work moving again?

JOHN: Yes, Rutherford was a man for getting the work done. He was in full harmony with Russell's view that the Witnesses must be busy and that the preaching work was an essential part of their Christian activity. For this reason he immediately began to reorganize the Watch Tower Society's headquarters office at Brooklyn, New York, and also to revitalize the field work, because it was on the downward trend. i

However, the changes he made and the programs he stepped up were those Russell had begun before he died. Traveling representatives of the Society, called "pilgrims," were increased in number from sixty-nine to ninety-three. Their responsibility was to visit and strengthen the more than one thousand congregations of Jehovah's witnesses at that time. This was particularly necessary in this time of great trial, in order to assist the brothers to maintain their optimistic view and their appreciation of the opportunities of service ahead. Encouragement was accomplished further by stimulating also the distribution of the Society's free tracts on occasional Sundays in front of churches and regularly in house-to-house visits. In 1917 alone, 28,665,000 free copies of the new four-page number of The Bible Students Monthly were given out.

Another activity begun before Pastor Russell's death, called "pastoral work," was also stepped up. In Russell's day this work had been limited to about 500 congregations that had voluntarily elected him as their pastor. He had written a letter to these groups describing the work as an "important follow-up work possible in connection with addresses received at public meetings, Drama exhibitions, from colporteur lists, etc."

This is the way this work was to be carried on: All the sisters in the congregation who were interested in engaging in this work were to elect democratically one of their group to serve as a lieutenant and another to serve as a secretary-treasurer. The city was to be divided into territorial districts assigned to individual sisters engaged in the work to call on all those whose names had been supplied as being interested. The purpose of these calls was to loan books, which could be read and studied by the person of good will, and to stimulate progress in a knowledge of the truth in other ways as well. Careful reports were made as to where interest was manifested, whether the person would attend one of the chart talks, etc. To assist the sisters, suggested approaches in calling at the homes were given, as well as suggestions in regard to overcoming prejudice and obtaining the names of others who might be interested in the message. At the conclusion of the call, the householder was advised that a chart talk on the "Divine Plan" would be given soon in that district. Persons manifesting interest were encouraged to attend these talks and, afterward, follow-up calls were made upon all those attending, with an effort to begin a study in the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures. j


TOM: Before you go any farther I would like you to tell me what you mean by "chart talks." You've mentioned these several times.

JOHN: These were public talks delivered as an explanation of a chart the Society had prepared to depict certain chronological events and significant periods or "ages" in the development of God's "plan" or purpose for mankind. These ages were marked off by semicircles, whereas the relative positions that various groups occupied before Jehovah were represented by horizontal lines on various levels. The chart was set up in front of the audience and the various features were discussed by the speaker with a pointer. Although the material was deep and somewhat technical, most of the brothers became quite adept in these talks and much real interest was stimulated in Jehovah's great purpose that was being unfolded throughout these time periods.

Now, as I have said, following Russell's death this pastoral work was stepped up, and now the entire congregation was encouraged to share in this activity.k Furthermore, the colporteur or pioneer service was expanded, bringing the total up from 373 to 461. To assist these pioneers in their work, the Society began in early 1917 to issue monthly service instructions from headquarters for their special benefit. These instructions appeared in a paper called "The Bulletin."1 A number of regional conventions were also held as a part of this rejuvenation campaign and these, too, were designed to encourage the brothers to continue in the work and not to get weary with well doing.

TOM: It sounds like he had a healthy program. What about the public speaking program Russell had emphasized just before 1914?

JOHN: Rutherford saw this as a real need in the organization and began to arrange for further qualified speakers to represent the Society on the public platform. This was to be done through the V. D. M. arrangement. These initials represented Verbi Dei Minister, or Minister of the Word of God.m


The arrangement consisted of a questionnaire made available to all males associated with the congregation as an encouragement and assistance to them to study and train themselves to be qualified through an accurate knowledge of God's purpose. Those able to answer these questions with a grade of 85 percent or more were considered and recognized as qualified speakers on different matters. Those passing the test according to these standards were then authorized to represent the Society as one of its public speakers and could work with the congregation in giving chart talks and otherwise serving on the public platform.

These twenty-two searching Bible questions commenced with the "first creative act of God," centered in the ransom and culminated in the complete work of Christ at the end of the thousand-year reign, a comprehensive sweep of all revealed doctrine at that time. They further dealt with the individual's background as to his conversion, dedication, water baptism, and extent of his study in the Bible with the use of the Society's literature.


TOM: You mentioned earlier, John, that conditions began to develop at Brooklyn headquarters that gave indication of an intensive period of judgment upon the entire congregation at that time. Was the particular issue here an internal opposition to Rutherford personally or to his stepped-up program of service?

JOHN: Well, it seemed to have as its focal point the change in administration that had taken place. It centered around personalities but was motivated by ambition. J. F. Rutherford was an altogether different type of man from what C. T. Russell had been. Although Russell was progressive, energetic and positive, still in his dealing with others in the organization he was kind, warm and very tactful. Judge Rutherford was warm and generous toward his associates but he was also a brusk and direct type of person, and his legal background and experiences in early life gave him a directness in his approach to problems in dealing with his brothers that caused some to take offense. Since Russell had been so prominent in the work from its beginning, it was easy for many in the organization at that time to look to him as an individual, rather than as a representative of the entire organization. Rutherford recognized this fact and realized that the president of the Society was merely an instrument to be used to maintain the entire organization as a servant of God and to see that this servant of God was equipped to carry on the work assigned to it.

TOM: What was Russell's viewpoint on this matter?

JOHN: Russell recognized that there was a responsibility on all Christians who claimed to be of the body of Christ and who ever expected to be with him in heaven. On the point of organization, as early as 1881 Russell recognized that the servant God said he would select to carry out his work was the entire body of anointed followers of Jesus Christ. He wrote in the Watch Tower of that year:

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?

Blessed is that servant (the whole body of Christ) whom his Lord when he has come (Gr., elthon) shall find so doing. "Verily, I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over all his goods." "He shall inherit all things."n


In course of time this view was lost sight of, and attention was focused more upon an individual man. o The view generally held, that Pastor Russell himself was the "faithful and wise servant" of Matthew 24:45-47, created considerable difficulty for some years. The insistence that Russell had been "that servant" led many to regard Russell in what amounted actually to creature worship. They believed that all the truth God had seen fit to reveal to his people had been revealed to Russell, and now nothing more could be brought forth because "that servant" was dead. This attitude caused Rutherford to root out any remnants of creature worship that might be left in the organization. For that reason he did not seek the favor of men and, because of the course many had taken in times past, he was suspicious of those who seemed to be working to curry favor with him. This attitude led to an unusual directness in dealing with his associates.

After Rutherford was elected president, it soon began to appear that there were some in the organization who were not in favor of the arrangement. A few believed that they should have been given this position and they went so far as to endeavor to wrest the administrative control from Rutherford's hands. This feeling began to develop early in 1917, within a few months after Rutherford was elected.


TOM: Was this a sort of conspiracy or an "every-man-for-himself'' controversy ?

JOHN: The seed of rebellion seemed to germinate in one man, but soon spread and finally did develop into a real conspiracy. This is the way it started.

Pastor Russell had recognized the need for someone from the Society's headquarters to go to Britain to strengthen the brothers there after World War I broke out. He had intended sending P. S. L. Johnson, born a Jew, who had forsaken Judaism to become a Lutheran minister before he came to a knowledge of the truth. Johnson had served as a speaker for the Society and was a man of recognized ability. This brilliance finally led to his downfall.

Because of Russell's expressed wish, the committee that served before Rutherford's election sent Johnson to England for this proposed task. When he arrived in London he began to assume an authority the Society had not given him, and began to oppose the Society's policy and the Society's Branch servant in the London office. He gave talks to the brothers in England to the effect that he, Johnson, was Pastor Russell's successor, indicating that the mantle of Pastor Russell had fallen upon him just as the prophet Elijah's cloak had fallen upon Elisha.

In the weeks that followed, he tried to take complete control of the British field and make himself the most prominent one in Britain. Without authority he even attempted to dismiss certain members of the London Bethel family. The work was so disrupted and such confusion developed that the Society's Branch servant was forced to complain to Brother Rutherford, the president of the Society. Immediately Brother Rutherford appointed a commission of several prominent brothers in London, not members of the headquarters staff, to hear the facts in this case and report directly to him. The commission met and after due consideration recommended that Johnson be recalled to the United States for the good of the work in Britain.

Brother Rutherford acted upon this committee's recommendation and instructed


Johnson to return. Johnson, however, declined. He wrote letters and sent expensive cablegrams criticizing the committee, accusing them of bias in their deliberations and otherwise trying to justify the course that he had taken. In order to make his position indispensable in Britain he used certain papers the Society had furnished him to facilitate entry into England and had the Society's funds in the London bank impounded. It was necessary later to take court action to free these monies again for the Society's use.

But Johnson was not able to hold out indefinitely and finally found it necessary to return to New York. There he persisted in his efforts to persuade Rutherford to send him back to England so that he might make his position more secure. When Brother Rutherford refused, he sought assistance from the board of directors and finally persuaded four members to side with him in this issue by making it appear that Brother Rutherford was unfit to serve as president of the Society. Since the board of directors consisted of only seven men, this meant that now the majority of the board of directors had gone in opposition to President Rutherford, Vice-President Pierson and Secretary-Treasurer Van Amburgh. This put the officers of the Society on one side of the issue and the directors who were trying to wrest administrative control from the president on the other side.

TOM: How did they expect to do that?

JOHN: Their idea was to make the president's position secondary to the board of directors and limit his authority to that of an adviser. That would have meant making a change in the corporation's bylaws, and since it was a complete departure from the provisions of the original charter it warned of serious trouble ahead.

Throughout the entire administration of Pastor Russell, the president and the other officers of the Society had been the ones to decide on new publications; the board of directors, as a body, was not consulted. Brother Rutherford continued this same policy as he took up the new administration. In the course of time the three officers decided to publish the "seventh volume," which had been in prospect for many years and which Russell himself had hoped to write before his death. The officers then arranged to have two brothers at headquarters, C. J. Woodworth and G. H. Fisher, compile this book, the first part of which was to be a commentary on Revelation and the second a commentary on Ezekiel. These co-editors were to assemble from all of Russell's previous writings on these Bible books a compilation that could be edited and published under the title "The Finished Mystery" or the seventh volume in the Studies in the Scriptures. p This seventh volume, therefore, contained largely the thinking and the comments of Pastor Russell during his lifetime.


At noon, July 17, 1917, this book was released at the Bethel dining room table. As Brother Russell had been accustomed to do, Brother Rutherford gave a present of this book to each member of the Bethel family. It came as a bombshell. Completely surprised by its release, the opposing members of the board of directors immediately seized upon this issue and made it the occasion of a five-hour controversy over the administration of the Society's affairs.

LOIS: But why should they object if Pastor Russell himself had hoped to write a seventh volume? Didn't you say this was a compilation of his own writings? It seems to me they didn't have much of an argument.

JOHN: Actually they had no cause for


contention at all, because Russell himself had stated: "Whenever I find the key, I will write the Seventh Volume; and if the Lord gives the key to someone else, he can write it." q They opposed the move because they had not been consulted. But now the book had been completed and released. In the five-hour debate that ensued the four contentious members of the board of directors were joined by P. S. L. Johnson. All voiced their grievances in the open before the entire headquarters staff. This controversy showed a number of the Bethel family were in sympathy with this opposition to the Society's administration under Brother Rutherford. If allowed to continue, it would disrupt the entire operation of Bethel; so Brother Rutherford took steps to correct it. r

Paul the apostle had clearly stated that those who cause division were to be marked and were to be avoided. In harmony with this clear-cut Scriptural principle it became necessary for Rutherford to reconcile these disgruntled members or ask them to leave. They thought it would be impossible for them to be replaced; but even before Russell's death, Rutherford, as an attorney, had pointed out to Russell that these members had not been properly elected. He pointed out that according to the Pennsylvania charter, every time Russell appointed a brother to fill the vacancy of a board member who had died, the appointment must be reconfirmed at the following annual meeting at Pittsburgh by proper vote. But Russell had failed to do so. This meant that only the officers who were elected at the Pittsburgh meeting regularly each year were duly constituted members of the board. These four others who had been merely appointees of Russell's had never had their appointment confirmed by an election and, hence, were not legal members of the board.

Rutherford knew this throughout this entire period of difficulty but had not brought the matter up, hoping that somehow these members would cease their opposition. When it became apparent that they would not, the time had come to legally dismiss them, which Rutherford did. This action infuriated these now defunct members of the board and they sought legal counsel in an effort to prevent Brother Rutherford from appointing four more new board members. Their attorney merely confirmed Brother Rutherford's position that they had never legally been members of the board of directors and, therefore, Rutherford was entirely within his rights as president of the Society in refusing to consider them as such. Immediately Brother Rutherford filled the vacancies with four others until their appointments could be confirmed at the next general corporation meeting in 1918.

Brother Rutherford did not summarily dismiss them, however. He offered them prominent positions as pilgrims, but they refused and voluntarily chose to leave Bethel. Unfortunately, and as was to be expected, their withdrawal from service at headquarters did not reconcile them to Jehovah's organization. Instead, they began to spread their opposition outside of Bethel in an extensive speaking and letter-writing campaign throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. As a result, after the summer of 1917, many of the congregations all over the world were composed of two parties. The spiritual drowsiness that had been settling on many during this period made them an easy prey for the smooth talk of these opposers, and they refused to co-operate with the awakening spirit of the revitalized work in preaching the Kingdom good news at that time. The United States of America was now actively engaged in World War I. Growing clergy


opposition and public hostility also made it easy for brothers who did not see God's organization to listen to such negatively inclined opposers and they gradually began to slow down their activity and to fall into line eventually with the opposition groups. s


These groups were not sleepy enough, however, to refrain from any activity at all. They were extremely zealous in their effort to wrest control of the congregations from those who were earnestly seeking to advance the divine will through the continued preaching activity. As foretold in the Scriptures, they were not interested in feeding the Lord's sheep from Jehovah's table. Instead, they were busily engaged in beating and abusing their fellow slaves. All of this, occurring in the summer of 1917, was the beginning of the clearly marked division between these opposers and those who were serving Jehovah according to the arrangement practiced by Brother Russell throughout his entire administration, and which arrangement was now being intensified by Brother Rutherford.

Earlier in 1917 the Society had scheduled a convention to be held at Boston in August of that year. The opposition group thought they could take control of this convention, but Brother Rutherford was determined that they would not do so. To forestall any move on their part in this regard, Rutherford himself, as the Society's president, served as permanent chairman of the convention. In this way he was able to control every session, and those in opposition were not permitted at any time to address the assembly. As a result, the convention was a complete success to Jehovah's praise and a complete failure to those seeking to interrupt the Kingdom work.

The next move on the part of the ambitious opponents of the Society was an effort to get control of the corporation meeting scheduled for January, 1918, in Pittsburgh. At this annual corporation meeting it was proposed that the new directors appointed by Brother Rutherford would be elected as a legal confirmation of his appointment of them. Brother Rutherford knew that this meeting would furnish the last desperate chance for these opposers of the Society to get control. He was reasonably certain that the majority of the brothers were not in favor of such a move. But the majority would not have an opportunity to express themselves at the election, since it was a corporation matter and must be handled by only those who were members of the legally constituted Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.

To give all of Jehovah's dedicated servants an opportunity to express themselves, it was suggested in The Watch Tower, November 1, 1917, that a referendum vote be taken by each congregation. t By the fifteenth of December, 813 congregations had sent in their votes. This poll indicated that 10,869 votes were for Rutherford as president out of the 11,421 votes sent in. This established beyond all question that the vast majority of the brothers in the field were really supporting Brother Rutherford and his administration. Furthermore, it was demonstrated by this informal referendum vote that all the faithful members of the board of directors as reconstituted in July of 1917 were preferred over the five rebellious ones. u

This vote of the brothers generally proved to demonstrate the attitude of the members of the legal corporation as well. Rutherford and the others of the board were legally re-elected and not one of the


opponents succeeded in establishing himself on the board of directors.v

By this time the division had become so marked between the two groups that there was no longer any possibility of reconciliation and, after the January business meeting of the Society, the opposition group formed a separate organization headed by what they called a "Committee of Seven." w By Memorial time, March 26, 1918, this separation had become complete, as the opposers chose to celebrate the Memorial of Christ's death apart from the Society's faithful congregations.

LOIS: Did their organization grow to any great size?

JOHN: On the contrary. Those forming this opposition were united for just a few months. At their convention in the summer of 1918, further differences ended in another split. Johnson went one way and the other four went another way, each with his followers. Johnson organized his own separate group, making his headquarters in Philadelphia, where he continued as "earth's great high priest" until his death. Further dissensions brought further divisions from that time forward, until this original group, separated from the Society at this crucial time of judgment, disintegrated into a number of schismatic sects.

LOIS: Were there many who separated from the Society at that time?

JOHN: It would be difficult to know exactly. But some idea can be gained from partial reports received by the Society. In times past the Society had published a partial report of Memorial attendance throughout the world. This was sent in by various congregations. But due to the difficulties of 1918, both inside and outside the organization, these attendance figures were not gathered. In 1917, the partial report for the Memorial on April 5 showed 21,274 in attendance as associated with the Society. At Memorial, April 13, 1919, according to a partial report without all foreign lands included, attendance figures were 17,961. From these figures, incomplete as they were, it becomes evident that far less than 4,000 had ceased to walk with their former faithful associates.x

But, just as foretold in Jesus' prophecy, those faithful to their service privileges were given work to do. Through the close of 1917 and into 1918 these servants of God, faithful to the work begun decades earlier by Pastor Russell, were energetically distributing The Finished Mystery. Within seven months after the new administration began, the Society's outside printers were busy on the 850,000 edition. As reported in The Watch Tower of 1917: "The sale of the Seventh Volume is unparalleled by the sale of any other book known, in the same length of time, excepting the Bible." y

This book proved to be a bone of contention, not only to those who were spiritually drowsy to opportunities of advanced Kingdom work, but also to those already serving as false spiritual guides to the people, the religious clergy of Christendom. The book was a stinging exposure of these false shepherds.

Painful to the organization as this rebellious blow from within had been, it was nothing compared to the blow that was to be dealt the organization by combined enemies on the outside. Satan's hatred of God's organization for centuries past now seemed to be crammed into a few short months in a determined effort to completely obliterate from the earth every semblance of the Kingdom witness. Had it not been for the mercy and loyal love of Jehovah, the next few months would have been fatal for the Watch Tower Society.

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