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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


The Turning from Religious Confusion Begins

LOIS: If the Roman Catholic Church claimed to be ruling in God's kingdom for a period of a thousand years during the Middle Ages, then why should they look for a second coming of Christ?

JOHN: They didn't But, when the power of the Roman Catholic Church had begun to decline about 1800, it is only natural that the attention of some Bible students would turn to the Lord's second coming.

LOIS: But what of the Reformation? You said that when the Protestants broke away they didn't become Jehovah's witnesses either. Why do you say that?

JOHN: Well, the Reformation really began as a rebellion against certain authorities of the Roman Catholic Church and soon developed into a strong political argument. Many Protestant leaders were as vicious in their persecution of religious opponents as the Inquisition of the Catholic Church had been. For example, John Calvin had anti-trinitarian Michael Servetus literally roasted alive, in horrible torture, for nearly five hours before he expired, while Calvin watched from a window.a Furthermore, the Protestant churches carried over with them the same teachings of apostasy that had been believed during the centuries of papal rule. These facts alone are evidence that this was not a true Reformation, nor were these "Reformers" witnesses of Jehovah as Jesus and those before him had been.

However, Jesus himself had foretold that the good news of God's kingdom would be preached throughout the world as a witness to all the nations before the end would come. During the Dark Ages this would have been impossible. Political and religious controls were both so tight that a complete breaking of the shackles of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy was necessary for any movement to grow to any extent. So, while at this point there was no return to true worship, the stirring events of history during this period of readjustment were really preparing conditions for the international preaching of the Kingdom of God established at Christ's return.


Many restrictions were being lifted, allowing for more freedom of thought and action; still much of this liberal thinking was carried to the extreme left so that continuous conflicts with radical ideologies would keep the people concentrating on these issues rather than on the real issue between the kingdom of Jehovah God and the rule of Satan the Devil.

As examples of this leftist swing of liber-


alism, in 1848 Marx and Engels issued their "Communist manifesto," and Darwin's radical Origin of the Species appeared in 1859 as a landmark in the intellectual and scientific revolution that was taking place simultaneously. Organized religions recognized their weakening position about the same time and the Vatican Council was called in 1869-70 to strengthen the position of the Roman Catholic Church. For the first time the pope was declared to be infallible. The Protestant organizations also took a backward step and the clergy began to assume even greater authority over the laity. Gradually, as a result of these many extremes, an era of godlessness began to develop. Higher criticism of the Bible, evolution, spiritism, atheism and infidelity all began to invade Christendom, and many so-called evangelical churches even began to modernize their teachings according to this trend in scientific and intellectual thinking. Soon after this, in 1891, the basic document of modern Catholic social philosophy was written. This was the encyclical by Pope Leo XIII called "Rerum novarum."

But while the religious leaders were trying to regain some of their strength at the expense of the people, political governments were regaining their power in another sense. The United States had just recovered from the Civil War and was beginning to restore and build itself into one of the greatest nations the earth has ever seen. Britain was passing through her golden era as the seventh world power of Bible prophecy and the British Empire was probably at its peak strength at this time. Because of this strength she looked with suspicion on the growing power of Germany, which had just won the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and which had begun to build herself as a great European power.

Not only was there a stirring and awakening politically and religiously, but scientifically, too, great advancements were being made. The invention of the steam engine, the discovery of electricity, development of the telephone, later the automobile; all these things in the late 1800's and the early 1900's began a great change in the civilization of the West. New business enterprises were blossoming forth. A flood of new corporations were organized to process this business; and a class of people, who, in previous centuries, had had little material wealth, were now encouraged to invest their money and were beginning to make fortunes. Materialism, money-making and pleasure seeking came hand in hand, and all this blinded the people to the potentials that were building up and that were due to come to a climax in 1914. All these prospects of better things looked so promising that the people in general were little concerned with the price they might eventually have to pay for them, nor were they much concerned with the great spiritual awakening that accompanied this revival, politically and commercially.


In spite of this attitude on the part of the people generally, though, it is true a real forward step had been made. Freedom of thought and action was possible, and it is interesting to note that simultaneously with the beginning of the loosening of political controls in Europe a serious and analytical study of the Bible was begun by many. One of the most widespread in effect was that begun by William Miller in 1816. He predicted the return of Christ Jesus visibly and bodily in 1843 or 1844. But his view was completely opposed to God's purpose as revealed in the Bible.b


TOM: Was Miller the only one at this time that was looking for Christ's return?

JOHN: No. The German-Lutheran theologian Bengel set the date for 1836, whereas the Irvingites in England looked first to 1835, then 1838, 1864 and finally 1866, and then gave up. By this time several different Adventist groups had formed from Miller's movement. Still others, such as the Elliott and Cumming group, were looking for 1866. Brewer and Decker predicted 1867 and Seiss favored 1870. There was a Mennonite group in Russia that put forth the date 1889.c

LOIS: But why were there so many different ideas as to when and how Christ would return?

JOHN: It was because men were still anxiously trying to follow traditional religious teachings instead of waiting on Jehovah. Remember, the true doctrines of the Bible had been so twisted throughout the period of apostasy that no clear vision of Christ's second presence would be possible until these doctrines themselves had been cleared up. This had not been accomplished by the so-called Reformation, so in the early part of the nineteenth century many mistakes were made in trying to determine when Christ would return, because chronology alone was relied on. It was not yet God's due time to bring about his restoration of true worship.

MARIA: Isn't it true, though, that, while most of those looking for the second presence of Christ expected a physical return, there were some who believed that Christ would not be visible at this second presence?

JOHN: Yes. For example, there were George Storrs of Brooklyn, who published a magazine called "The Bible Examiner" and who looked to the date 1870; H. B. Rice, who published The Last Trump, also looked to 1870, and a third group, this time of disappointed Second Adventists, looking to 1873 or 1874. This group was headed by N. H. Barbour of Rochester, New York, publisher of The Herald of the Morning.d


Then, finally, around 1870, another group began to appear. This was the one headed by Charles Taze Russell of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Now let's read about it in Russell's own words:

We begin the narrative at the year 1868, when the editor [of Zion's Watch Tower], having been a consecrated child of God for some years, and a member of the Congregational Church and of the Y.M.C.A., began to be shaken in faith regarding many long accepted doctrines.

Brought up a Presbyterian, indoctrinated from the Catechism, and being naturally of an inquiring mind, I fell a ready prey to the logic of infidelity, as soon as I began to think for myself. But that which at first threatened to be the utter shipwreck of faith in God and the Bible was, under God's providence, overruled for good, and merely wrecked my confidence in human creeds and systems of Bible misinterpretations. e

During the next few months Russell continued to reflect over the subject of religion, unable to accept it, and yet unwilling to let it go. Then he relates:

Seemingly by accident, one evening I dropped into a dusty, dingy hall in Allegheny, Pa., where I had heard that religious services were held, to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches. There, for the first time, I heard something of the views of Second Adventism, by Jonas Wendell . . .

Though his Scripture exposition was not entirely clear, and though it was very far from what we now rejoice in, it was sufficient, under God, to reestablish my wavering faith in the Divine inspiration of the Bible, and to show that the records of the Apostles and the Prophets are indissolubly linked.

As a result Russell's interest in the Bi-


ble was rekindled and he returned to the study of the Bible "with more zeal and care than ever before." He continues:

I soon began to see that we were living somewhere near the close of the Gospel Age, and near the time when the Lord declared that the wise, watching ones of His children should come to a clear knowledge of His Plan. At this time, myself and a few other Truth seekers in Pittsburgh and Allegheny, formed a class for Bible study; f and the period from 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace, in knowledge and in love of God and His Word. We came to see something of God's love, how it had made provision for all mankind, how all must be awakened from the tomb in order that God's loving Plan might be testified to them, and how all who will then exercise faith in Christ's redemptive work and will render obedience in harmony with their knowledge of God's will, might then, through Christ's merit, be brought back into full harmony with God, and be granted everlasting life. This we saw to be the Restitution work foretold in Acts 3:21. . .

However, we were then merely getting the outlines of God's Plan and unlearning many cherished errors, the time for the clear discernment of the minutia not having fully come. . . .

Thus passed the years 1868-1872. The years following, to 1876, were years of continued growth in grace and in knowledge on the part of the handful of Bible students with whom I met in Allegheny. We progressed from our first crude and indefinite ideas of Restitution to clearer understanding of the details; but God's due time for clear light had not yet come.

It was during this time, the account shows, that these Bible students came to recognize the difference between the Lord as "the man who gave himself" and the Lord who would come again as a spirit creature. They learned that spirit creatures can be present and yet invisible to men. As a result of this advanced understanding—

We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh and were teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, and whose time settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally of the object and manner of our Lord's Coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed His coming Kingdom.

These wrong views so generally held of both the object and manner of Christ's Second Advent, led me to write a pamphlet: "The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return," of which some 50,000 copies were published. g

So it is that after centuries of darkness and weeping, the true light of God's Word began to shine forth again and the message of Christ's return that began to be heralded so zealously was like a joyous shout at the dawning of a new day. The joyful cry that began with this significant publication, The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return, was eventually to grow in volume until it should be like the thunder of many waters.

TOM: So that was the beginning of the international preaching of Jehovah's witnesses. That would make the modern activity of your group till now over eighty years old, wouldn't it? That's older than most people are today.

JOHN. Yes, but following the divine will on a continuous road means far more than just starting out in the right direction. Filled with enthusiasm and zeal for the work ahead, Russell set out at full speed only to find himself almost immediately at an unmarked fork in the road. Obviously he knew that he could not travel both roads and he was certain that one of those ways would spell disaster. He knew he must make a decision, but even then he could not know how far-reaching that decision was to be, nor how it was to set a pattern from then on. But if I start on that part of the story we'll be here all night. If you like, we'll come back next week.

TOM: By all means. I still have plenty of questions.

LOIS: Please do. I'm interested in that decision Mr. Russell had to make.

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