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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


Preaching the Good News, a Commission for All

LOIS: John, last week you were telling us that Watch Tower readers distributed tracts. Was this an organized work or done individually?

JOHN: It was primarily an individual work at first, although much encouragement and assistance were rendered by the developing Society. From the very beginning Russell recognized the need for Christians to carry on actively in preaching what they had learned. In its second year of publication the Watch Tower carried this stirring call under the heading "Wanted 1000 Preachers." This call encouraged all readers of the Watch Tower who could give one half or more of their time exclusively to the work of the Lord to

go forth into large or small cities, according to your ability, as Colporteurs or Evangelists, seek to find in every place the earnest Christians, many of whom you will find possessed of a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; to these seek to make known the riches of Our Father's grace, and the beauties of His word, giving them tracts; and as a work of kindness and love to them, endeavor to sell them the "Day Dawn," or to take their subscription for the "Watch Tower," [or if interested, but too poor to purchase, presenting the same as a gift from God.]

As few could afford to travel, pay their board and clothe themselves without some income, we propose to furnish the TRACTS and DAY DAWNS free, and to allow any such person to take subscriptions for the WATCH TOWER, using the money obtained from both of these sources, ... in defraying necessary expenses. a

In the following month, May, 1881, reference was made to this item, with the observation that many good responses had resulted. But it also demonstrated Pastor Russell's recognition that this work was not merely for the purpose of acquainting persons with God's purpose. It was also designed to give the individual Christian a responsibility in sharing in the outworking of God's purposes. Note what it says:

Some seem to have misapprehended us and thought we wanted everybody—regular canvassers and book agents, and called the attention of their friends to it as a nice chance to obtain some employment, etc. This is a misapprehension of our proposition. We want laborers (and so does the Lord) who will be working for heavenly wages, rather than for the price of a paper or book, be that ever so needful. No, we want those only who can explain the paper and book and plan, who as they go will preach, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent ye." (Matt. iii.2). b

LOIS: Well, you certainly will have to admit that Pastor Russell was optimistic anyway, calling for 1,000 full-time preachers. Were there many who actually responded?

JOHN: Reports were not published frequently, but during 1885 there were around 300 colporteurs, as they were called. This is indicated from a report of the secretary-treasurer of the Society in the January,


1886, issue of the Watch Tower. c In 1886 the bound book entitled "The Divine Plan of the Ages" was published and began to be distributed. These colporteurs, or "pioneers," as we now call them, reported weekly to the Pittsburgh office. d Years later when the bound books became a series of six volumes, the colporteurs did not carry all the bound books with them as they went from door to door, as Jehovah's witnesses do today. Instead they carried what was called a "prospectus." This was merely an array of the covers of the books bound together in accordion fashion so that it would open out flat and display all the book covers. The Witness would then stretch this out along his arm and give a talk on each of the subjects of these books. Then he would take an order for a complete set. In this way deliveries were made only once or twice a month and the Witnesses would generally work in pairs to deliver all these ordered volumes. It was not unusual for one colporteur, or "pioneer," to deliver four or five hundred volumes a month.


But that early call for 1,000 preachers was not limited to those who could devote their full time. This further point was made:

The church is God's vineyard . . . There is so great a variety of work that all may find employ—all were hired in the parable. If you have a half hour, or an hour, or two, or three, you can use it and it will be acceptable with the Lord of the harvest. Who can tell the blessings which may flow from one hour's service under God's direction? e

That same year an article called "Anointed to Preach" appeared in the Watch Tower under the caption text of Isaiah 61:1. Would you like to read that text, Lois?

LOIS: Yes, I'll read it from my new volume of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that you left me. [Reading] "The spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to call out liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners; to call out the year of good will on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God."

JOHN: Pastor Russell opens the article by explaining that, according to Luke 4:18, Jesus quoted this prophecy, and applied it to himself and his work. He then shows that one reason for this anointing was to supply authorization from God to preach. Then Russell calls attention to the responsibility on Jesus' followers.

The anointing spirit power which came first upon the head [Jesus] was due and did in due time (Pentecost) come upon the church which is his body. And the anointing which she there received abideth in her. (1 Jno. 2:27.) Why was the church anointed? The word answers—that she might share with her Lord in the present time the dishonor and sacrifice and in the coming age of glory be joined with him in glory and power. And more—as he was "anointed to preach the good news" so must we, his body, be anointed to preach the same gospel... WHO ARE TO PREACH? We answer, All who receive of the anointing spirit and are thus recognized as members of the body of Christ (the anointed.) Of each member it is true as of the head—"He hath anointed me to preach the gospel." We have each gifts and talents differing from the other and none of us are like our head, perfect, but each is responsible for such and so much preaching as he can do. Some can preach to multitudes; others to the twos and threes; others from house to house; others can drop a word in season; others can distribute tracts; others can give of the consecrated money entrusted to their stewardship to help others preach. Some can do several of these things, and some can do all of them, and all can and should preach by their life and customs the power of the good news to transform, for we are all living epistles, known and read of all men.

Are you preaching? We believe that none will be of the little flock except preachers. . . . Yes, we were called to suffer with him and to pro-


claim that good news now, that in due time we might be glorified and perform the things now preached. We were not called, nor anointed to receive honor and amass wealth, but to spend and be spent, and to preach the good news. Let us give all diligence to make our calling sure and to perform that for which we were anointed. f

MARIA: When we remember that this was only two years after the first issue of the Watch Tower appeared we can realize how urgent Pastor Russell considered the work to be.

JOHN: And, in calling on others to recognize their own responsibilities, he was ready to give them assistance. They already knew what to say from reading the Watch Tower. Now he set about giving counsel on how to say it. This is in the same issue of the Watch Tower that contained the call for 1,000 preachers. It appears under the heading "How to Teach."

Food for Thinking Christians cover

To those who would go forth to use either much or little of their time, we would say: It is a matter of great importance not only to teach the right thing but to present truth in a proper manner and order. This may be observed as a rule of life, pertaining to everything we undertake: if we would reap good fruit we must not only plant good seed, but it must be planted at a proper time, in a soil previously made ready, and it must be cared for until it becomes possessed of strength. So, too, must the seed be carefully, prayerfully and wisely sown, and the words of our Master are: "Be ye wise as serpents but harmless as doves."

Present first the Restitution and the beauties of God's unfolding plan; then show that all this awaits and is dependent on the King and kingdom coming. Then, when your hearer or reader has come to love the King and to long for his kingdom, may be quite soon enough to present the manner of His coming—that it is not Jesus the man but Jesus a spiritual being, who comes, unseen, . . . and lastly present "the time, that now we are "in the days of the Son of Man." g

So, by means of such preaching instructions, gradually hundreds of Christian witnesses were nursed and trained to share effectively in the field service.


TOM: I suppose the free distribution of over a million copies of the booklet Food for Thinking Christians in four years helped considerably in spreading the message. But, besides the booklets and tracts and the Watch Tower, what else did Russell write? You've mentioned a number of bound books. Were these his, too?

JOHN: Yes, those that we've read excerpts from. Of course, Russell's first book, Three Worlds, was written in collaboration with Barbour. Then there was another book that had been circulating called "Day Dawn," written by an early associate, J. H. Paton. But, with the advancing light of truth, neither of these were found to be satisfactory for the work. So it was decided that Russell should write a number of books to be called the "Millennial


Dawn" Series. h After many difficulties the first one appeared in 1886 as Volume I of the promised series. This is the one we spoke of earlier. It was first called "The Plan of the Ages" and later "The Divine Plan of the Ages." It proved to be one of the finest instruments the Society had yet brought forth in spreading the good news, and within a forty-year period six million copies were distributed. This enabled hundreds of sincere persons to come out of apostate religion and become associated with the early society of Jehovah's witnesses.

The book contained a chart of the ages very similar to that which had appeared first in the book Three Worlds. Its contents comprised a resume of all the truth that had been understood up to the year 1886, including that which had appeared in Food for Thinking Christians and in Tabernacle Teachings. It was a 352-page book written in a simple and easy-flowing style, even for the modern reader, in spite of the more complicated sentence structure so generally popular then. A few of its sixteen chapters give some idea of the hope it held out to its readers: "Earth's Night of Sin to Terminate in a Morning of Joy," "The Existence of a Supreme Intelligent Creator Established," "Our Lord's Return—Its Object, the Restitution of All Things," "The Permission of Evil and Its Relation to God's Plan."

Then, near the end of the book, appeared a chapter called "The Day of Jehovah" that is highly significant even in our day. Note this brief excerpt:

The "Day of Jehovah" is the name of that period of time in which God's kingdom, under Christ, is to be gradually "set up" . . . while the kingdoms of this world are passing away and Satan's power and influence over men are being bound. It is everywhere described as a dark day of intense trouble and distress and perplexity upon mankind. . . .

That some of the saints will still be in the flesh during at least a part of this burning time seems possible. [This has proved to be true.] Their position in it, however, will differ from that of others, not so much in that they will be miraculously preserved (though it is distinctly promised that their bread and water shall be sure), but in the fact that, being instructed from God's Word, they will not feel the same anxiety and hopeless dread that will overspread the world. [Here again is exactly the picture of Jehovah's witnesses in these present times since the first world war.] . . . The troubles of this "Day of Jehovah" will give opportunity for preaching the good tidings of coming good, such as is seldom afforded, and blessed are they who will follow the footsteps of the Master, and be the good Samaritans binding up the wounds and pouring in the oil and wine of comfort and cheer. i

Although this was still decades before the first world war, it is surprising how accurately the events that finally took place were actually foreseen.

LOIS: Were the other books in the series finally written?

JOHN: Five more were, in the course of years. Volume II, The Time Is at Hand, was released in 1889; Volume III, Thy Kingdom Come, 1891; Volume IV, The Battle of Armageddon, which was originally called "The Day of Vengeance," appeared in 1897; Volume V, At-one-ment Between God and Man, in 1899; and finally Volume VI, The New Creation, in 1904.

MARIA: These books were called the "Millennial Dawn" Series until the end of 1904, when it was decided that the name "Studies in the Scriptures" would more clearly show the intended use of these publications and how they would best serve the reader. At the same time, four suggested presentations in offering the books to the public were given the colporteurs. j It was in the July 15 issue of The Watch Tower, 1906, that Pastor Russell said:

Millennial Dawn books

Nor is our promise of the complete set yet fulfilled; for although six volumes are now issued, a seventh on Revelation and Ezekiel is still future: delayed by the growth of the general work, doubtless in accord with the Lord's "due time." k


TOM: Was the first work outside the United States the distribution in Britain of the booklet Food for Thinking Christians you mentioned earlier?

JOHN: As far as we have any record, yes, except for Canada. Within a few years small groups were gathered together in Britain for Bible study. Because of the growing interest it was decided in 1891 that Russell, as the Society's president, should make his first trip abroad to stimulate this interest and expand the work farther outside of Canada and the United States. His trip was scheduled to last two months. Russell and his missionary party sailed from New York city for Belfast, Ireland, where they met with friends and then proceeded on to visit other groups and historic places in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland. His tour took him into Russia and down into Turkey and Egypt before he returned to England and went on to New York. 1

The report of this trip presents an interesting picture of the work of spreading the good news in that time. He wrote:

We see no opening or readiness for the truth in Russia, . . . nothing to encourage us to hope for any harvest in Italy or Turkey or Austria or Germany. . . . The Italians have been so long under the baneful influence of the Papacy that they, like the French, are rapidly turning to open infidelity, . . . But Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and especially England, Ireland and Scotland are fields ready and waiting to be harvested. m

As Russell had foreseen, it was in these latter countries that the truth spread freely through the 1890's and early 1900's. Because of the urgent need that he had recognized in England, Russell immediately established a depot for literature in London. n Then in 1900 the Society opened its first Branch office outside the United States. This was also in London, England. o


TOM : What about the Scandinavian countries and others whose native tongue is not English? Was the literature of the Society available in their own languages?

JOHN: At first, no; the Society's publications were published only in English. But after Russell's trip abroad, arrangements were made to begin publishing various books and pamphlets in German, French, Swedish, Dano-Norwegian, Polish, Greek and later in Italian. So gradually the good news was reaching farther out into the world to peoples of other nations and tongues. In 1903 a Branch was opened in Germany, p and another in Australia the next year, although one of the Witnesses had been sent to that continent in 1903. q

TOM: What expansion did you have in numbers up to that time?

JOHN: A statement in the January, 1891, Watch Tower, page 3, might throw some light on the possible number associated at that time.

The monthly circulation of the TOWER averages about ten thousand copies, which we may safely estimate represents fifteen thousand readers. And of those readers, scattered in all parts of the world, we estimate, judging from the letters received, that about four thousand are fully consecrated to the Lord and using their talents to praise him to the best of their ability. . . . And if 4,000 persons now living are fully consecrated to the Lord and faithful, and have been so developed during the past ten years, this would show an average of 400 persons annually during the past ten years.

That represented a fairly sizable yearly increase for these early days of the work.


As a result of this increase it was found necessary to strengthen the organization further and build its associates up spiritually by regular conventions. As already mentioned, these had been held in connection with the Lord's evening meal since 1879. But in 1893 it was deemed advisable to hold the first convention outside of Pittsburgh. Accordingly, arrangements were made in 1893 for a national assembly to be held in Chicago, Illinois, August 20-24, the same time that the Columbian Exposition or world's fair was held there. Because of this world's fair, railroads had made provisions for reduced rates in travel to Chicago. The Witnesses took advantage of this to attend the assembly and then, if they so desired, to stay a few days afterward to take in the Columbian Exposition. The report is interesting.

The number in attendance was about 360 . . . following [the morning prayer meeting each day] came a discourse of about an hour and a half, then an adjournment for dinner, after which the afternoon, from 2 until 5, was devoted to the public answering of questions. The last day was devoted to the interest of the Colporteur work; and on the day after the close of the Convention, some of the experienced Colporteurs [or pioneers] remained with some of the less successful and the beginners, and held a school of colporteuring—giving instructions, pointing out good and bad methods, manners and expressions . . . [about 50 colporteurs attended]. The Calvary Baptist Church of Chicago very kindly granted us the use of their baptistry; and, in all, 70 symbolized their baptism into Christ's death by immersion into water. The proportion of brethren and sisters was about equal, and their ages ranged from 17 to 70 years.r

There was another feature of the work that opened up. In 1894, the Society undertook a new program to strengthen the organization and draw its members close together. Beginning in that year twenty competent part-time representatives of the Watch Tower Society were sent out on weekends from Pittsburgh to conduct public meetings and to build up new congregations or "ecclesias." s

Of course, this was not altogether a new work. You remember we mentioned that Russell and a few others visited the earliest congregations. Actually, the first notice of visitation work to the congregations


appeared as a small item under the heading "Preaching" in Zion's Watch Tower for December, 1879, page 8. It said:

Almost all the brethren whose names appear on our list as regular contributors, the editor, and three others who do not write for ZION'S WATCH TOWER, but who are in sympathy and accord with its teachings, are preaching the good news wherever the Lord of the Harvest opens the way. Requests for their services may be sent to this office.

In 1897 a further development of this practice came about in what was called the "pilgrim work." This service of visiting congregations in this year was confined to three full-time representatives who traveled on a set route from one congregation to another, spending one or two days with each group, conducting meetings with them and otherwise providing for their spiritual nourishment. This work proved to be a real blessing to the brothers since it helped in many ways to unify the congregations' thinking and draw them closer together in fulfilling their commission to preach. Aside from Zion's Watch Tower itself, and occasional correspondence, the pilgrims' visits were about the only tie that these congregations had with the headquarters' office in Pittsburgh. t Through the years the number of congregations of Bible students increased, so it was necessary for the Society to send more pilgrims on the road in order to maintain organizational contact. In 1905 there were twenty-five, u and by 1917 there were ninety-three serving. v

MARIA: John, you mentioned once before about correspondence received by the Society. Maybe Tom and Lois would like to know that letters were frequently published in the Watch Tower, if they were of general interest. May I read one of them to the group? I found it particularly interesting.

JOHN: Certainly. I believe you have in mind the one written by a newly interested man in 1894.

MARIA: Yes, that's the one. [Reading]

Gentlemen:—Enclosed herewith please find Exchange on New York for the sum of $6.00, for which please send me ZION'S WATCH TOWER one year and copies of MILLENNIAL DAWN.

By way of explanation for ordering this amount of books, I desire to say that, about two months ago, two young ladies [Watch Tower pioneers] came into my [law] office selling those books. I was very busy when they presented their card; and, seeing that they were ladies selling books, I bought the three volumes, thinking that by so doing I was helping them out. I have since concluded that these ladies brought to me "glad tidings of great joy." I took the books home, and thought little of them, until a few weeks ago, when I had some spare time, I began reading the first volume, and it was so very interesting that I could not stop. The result is, my dear wife and myself have read these books with the keenest interest, and we consider it a God-send and a great blessing that we have had the opportunity of coming in contact with them. They are indeed a "helping hand" to the study of the Bible. The great truths revealed in the study of this series have simply reversed our earthly aspirations; and realizing to some extent, at least, the great opportunity for doing something for Christ, we intend to take advantage of this opportunity in distributing these books, first, among our nearest relatives and friends, and then among the poor who desire to read them and are unable to purchase; and for that reason we desire these extra copies. . . . Yours, etc.w

This letter was signed by lawyer J. F. Rutherford in 1894.

LOIS: Oh, that's interesting. That must be Judge Rutherford. I remember his name from the time I was a little girl. My Dad used to like to listen to him on the radio, but my mother—well, she didn't. Of course, this was a long time after he wrote that letter.

JOHN: Yes, of course. He dedicated himself to Jehovah twelve years later and was appointed the Society's lawyer in 1907 at the Pittsburgh headquarters or "Bible House." He became the Society's second president when Pastor Russell died.

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