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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


Uncovering the Roots of Opposition

TOM: Last week, John, you said that religious leaders made an effort to answer Russell on doctrinal grounds. How?

JOHN: It was a limited effort, Tom, and really defeated their own ends. As thousands upon thousands of Bible tracts and pamphlets were constantly being distributed farther from the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) fountainhead, clergy opposition became increasingly manifest. These prominent leaders felt compelled to do something. They resented anyone whom their Evangelical Alliance would not recognize speaking authoritatively on the Bible. Since Russell was not a graduate of one of the theological schools operated by the major sects belonging to this alliance, these clergymen ridiculed him as president of the Watch Tower Society, objecting particularly to his being called "Pastor." They found certain unscrupulous newspapers willing to be used as tools to concoct and spread scandalous lies about Russell and his differences with his wife.a

Then, on March 10, 1903, the ministerial alliance made an effort to answer Russell's explanations of the Bible by choosing a highly educated man, skilled in argumentation, to challenge Russell to a six-day open debate. Actually, this was another attempt to discredit and expose Russell as an "ignorant and unlearned man." This Pittsburgh opponent of Russell, Dr. E. L. Eaton, was the minister of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. Within two days Russell in good faith accepted this offer and the debates were finally held in the fall of the year at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Hall before record audiences.

The first proposition was considered Sunday afternoon, October 18. Eaton debated affirmatively that the Bible teaches that divine grace for salvation has been exercised since man's fall and that there will be no probation after death. Russell Scripturally denied.

Second, Tuesday evening, October 20, Russell affirmed that the Bible clearly teaches that the souls of the dead are unconscious, while their bodies are in the grave. Eaton denied.

Third, Thursday evening, October 22, Eaton affirmed that the Bible teaches that all the saved will become spirit creatures, and after the General Judgment will enter heaven. Russell denied.

Fourth, Tuesday evening, October 27, Russell, affirming that the Bible teaches that only the "saints" of the gospel age will share in the "first resurrection," also held that vast multitudes will be saved in


and by the subsequent resurrection. Eaton denied.

Fifth, Thursday, October 29, Russell affirmed that the Bible teaches that the object of both the second coming of Christ and the Millennium is the blessing of all the families of earth. Eaton denied.

Sixth and lastly, on Sunday, November 1, Eaton affirmed that the Bible teaches that the divine penalty for sin, eventually to be inflicted upon the incorrigible, will consist of inconceivably great sufferings, eternal in duration. Russell vigorously denied this hell-fire doctrine.b

MARIA: There is one interesting story that some tell who were present at the debates. Of course, all the brothers were there as well as thousands of the Methodists and those of other religions in the Pittsburgh area. When Russell arrived at the hall the first night he was surprised to see present not only Dr. Eaton but also several other prominent Protestant clergymen of the city sitting on the platform in the background as a committee. Eaton would frequently get notes from these men to coach him throughout the entire debate. On the other hand, Russell stood his ground all alone, and some years later a humorous cartoon in one of the publications pictured Pastor Russell as a Daniel in the lions' den.


LOIS: What was the result of these debates?

JOHN: On the whole, Russell came off victorious for each of the six debates and especially the last one on hell. It is reported that one of the attending clergymen, acknowledging that victory, came up to Russell after the last debate, saying: "I am glad to see you turn the hose on hell and put out the fire."c Furthermore, many of Dr. Eaton's own congregation became Jehovah's witnesses after that. In fact, there still are some in the truth to this day, older brothers, that were former members of Eaton's congregation. This is strong evidence of the power of the truth against the false doctrines of apostasy.

TOM: I never could see how anyone could accept the doctrine of "hell fire." It is not reasonable to believe in a God who is supposed to personify love, yet who would create a place like that.

LOIS: I don't think I really believe it either. But our church doesn't teach much about hell any more. I can't remember hearing a sermon on hell in church since I was a little girl.

JOHN: That's very likely true, Lois, and it is not just the advent of scientific knowledge that has caused this change in church teaching. It is just as stated by that minister to Pastor Russell. These early Bible students, in their extensive campaign of Bible teaching, figuratively put out the fires of hell. This so aroused the anger of some prominent religious leaders and evangelists that these early Witnesses were often derisively called "No-hellers." The implication of that nickname is incorrect, of course, because Jehovah's witnesses do believe in the Bible "Sheol," translated "hell," but not as a place of torment. The Bible clearly reveals that hell in the Bible is the common grave of mankind, where persons dying go until time for the resurrection.

This subject of "hell" was one Pastor Russell used extensively, and one of his most popular lectures ever delivered was one called "To Hell and Back." During the years 1905 to 1907, Russell toured the entire United States and Canada by special train or car, conducting a series of one-day conventions, during which this public


lecture was featured. It was delivered before packed houses in nearly every large city of both countries.d

In this striking lecture he took his audience on a witty, humorous, imaginary trip to hell and back. The irrefutable arguments presented by Russell in this talk, and by the Bible Students themselves throughout this entire period, made a lasting effect on many people.

Many interesting stories are told of these days of Russell's "convention car" and "convention train." For example, in Oakland, California, the brothers were unable to hire a hall large enough for the anticipated crowd. So the advance agent engaged the largest Methodist church in the city for this Sunday afternoon public lecture. Those signing the contract for the church did not know the name of the lecture that was to be given. A week or two before the talk was to be held the customary leaflets were put out, inviting the people by the thousands to come to hear the talk, and a large paid advertisement appeared in the newspapers and on big billboards announcing: "Attend the lecture 'To Hell and Back' by C. T. Russell at Oakland Methodist Church."

The elders of the church were infuriated and wanted to break the contract immediately. They were advised by their lawyer that they could break the contract but they must be prepared, if Russell sued them, to be responsible for whatever sums he named in the suit. Their lawyer advised them the best thing they could do would be to instruct their janitor not to show up when the time for the meeting arrived.

Pastor Russell, as usual, was early, arriving an hour before the talk was scheduled. To his surprise many people were standing outside the church. He inquired what the trouble was. The brothers in charge said they couldn't get the church open because no janitor had showed up. Russell said, "We have a contract, don't we? And hasn't a down payment been made?" When the brothers said, "Yes," he told them, "Well, legally this is our property for the next several hours. If we can't get in through the front door, instruct one of the brothers to go in through the basement and open up the door for the people." This they did and their big meeting was successfully held in the Oakland Methodist Church.


TOM : Apparently Russell was not only a courageous man but a resourceful one as well.

JOHN: He was not one to be easily turned aside from what he recognized as a God-given assignment. He was thoroughly convinced that the work he was doing was according to the divine will for all honest-hearted Christian people and he was determined to fulfill his responsibility to the very best of his ability. All the opposition that was brought against Russell and the organization did not stop its forward movement. The zeal and activity of these early Witnesses are difficult to appreciate in these days of advanced scientific methods and advantages. Though small in number, this band of faithful Witnesses were undaunted by opposition and the immensity of the task before them.

The work continued to spread and the organization expanded. In 1903, just prior to the Eaton-Russell debates, Russell made his second tour of Europe. It was at that time he established the Branch office of the Society in Germany.e The following year the Branch was set up in Australia. f About this time, too, the seeds of truth were falling into good soil in faraway South Africa, g


in Japan, h and in the British West Indies. A convention was held in Kingston, Jamaica, attended by 400, with 600 at the public meeting. i Expansion continued in the United States also. By 1908 it was possible to hold a convention at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, August 29 to September 7, with an estimated peak attendance of 4,800.j

Literature continued to be distributed by the millions of pieces and there were now 30,000 subscribers for the Watch Tower, with thousands of them sharing in the work of bringing truth from the Bible to others eager for knowledge of God's Word. Furthermore, to meet this growing demand for Bible truth, to meet further objections being raised by the clergy of Christendom, and to keep up with the flood of truth as it was being revealed in a progressive way to these sincere Bible students, new literature was constantly being produced, and those truths recognized at first only in part were being clarified and refined.

TOM: Was that debate with Eaton the only one Russell had?

JOHN: No, it wasn't. In 1908, Protestantism found another champion for its cause in the person of Elder L. S. White of the Disciples of Christ, one of the largest Protestant groups in the South. Capitalizing on Russell's growing popularity and his ability to draw large crowds to his talks, this group proposed a public debate, which they hoped to transform into a revival for the Disciples of Christ. Pastor Russell, though, was suspicious of their motives and so the Society quietly called for an eight-day convention at this same time in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the debate was to be held. It was realized that, if this were not done, the small congregation at Cincinnati would be outnumbered by the swarm of the Disciples of Christ expected. The six debates, scheduled for February 23-28, 1908, came off on schedule and thousands were on hand to observe the easy victory for Russell, who, by this time, had become expert in debate. k Pictures of both Russell and Elder White with the full text of the debates appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.1 Perhaps the success of this series of debates can best be measured by the success of Elder White's proposed revival afterward. Although there were 2,100 present at the last session of the Bible Students convention on Sunday afternoon, March 1, yet at Elder White's opening revival meeting that same day, the total attendance, including himself, was 31. Other debate challenges were made by others and accepted, but at the last moment the challengers would withdraw. m


LOIS: Did Pastor Russell ever have any difficulty with anyone in the organization itself?

JOHN: Yes, there have always been some who will allow selfishness, pride or ambition to cloud their vision. But these opposers have only served to test the quality and the strength of integrity of the channel God is using. You remember the difficulty over the doctrine of the ransom that arose in the beginning with Barbour. Then, a short time after this, one of those who had survived that trial fell a prey to the snare of higher criticism and tried to draw away a following to himself. n

The next sifting that took place occurred only shortly afterward and demonstrated the fatality of trying to compete with the Lord's channel, even with good intentions. In that instance, Russell reports, another associate

proposed to start another paper on the same lines as THE WATCH TOWER, to republish some of the simpler features of God's Plan and to


be a sort of missionary and primary teacher. Knowing him to be clear on the subject of the Ransom, I bade him Godspeed and introduced a sample copy of his paper, Zion's Day Star (now for many years discontinued), to our nearly ten thousand readers . . . Yet within one year it had gone boldly into infidelity.o

Then, in the early 1890's, further seeds of rebellion were planted in the organization. Some of the prominent workers set themselves in opposition to Pastor Russell in an attempt to seize control of the Society for themselves. Soon after the convention in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893, these conspirators planned to explode what they thought would be a bombshell that would end Russell's popularity and finish him as president of the Society. Although this problem did cause Pastor Russell much trouble and sorrow, when all the facts were brought to light Russell was vindicated and those who had plotted against him soon completely disappeared from sight and the service work went on without them.p

Now another development occurred. Mrs. Russell had been a director and officer of the Society for a number of years, serving as its secretary and treasurer. She had also been associate editor of the Watch Tower magazine and a regular contributor to its columns. When this difficulty we have just mentioned arose, Mrs. Russell visited a number of congregations to speak in behalf of her husband. Being a brilliant, educated woman, she was well received. So much so, in fact, that she now sought to secure a stronger voice in directing what should appear in the Watch Tower. This ambition was really her undoing. It was much like that of Moses' sister, Miriam, who rose up against her brother as the leader of Israel and tried to make herself prominent in the nation. q When Mrs. Russell realized that no article of hers would be acceptable for publication unless it was consistent with the Scriptural views expressed in the Watch Tower, she became greatly disturbed and her growing resentment led her eventually to sever her relationship with the Society and also with her husband. This forced Russell to provide a separate home for her, which he did, providing financially for her support.

Years later, in 1906, after due court proceedings, her separation was declared legal and she was awarded a court settlement against Russell for several thousand dollars. Because of certain statements made in this trial, opposers of Pastor Russell have endeavored ever since to make it appear that he was an immoral man and hence not qualified for the position that he had now attained in the religious field. However, the court record is clear that such charges are false. Reporting on this point later it was stated:

That Mrs. Russell herself did not believe and never has believed that her husband was guilty of immoral conduct is shown by the [court] record in this case where her own counsel (on page 10) asked Mrs. Russell this question: "You don't mean that your husband was guilty of adultery ?" Ans. "No." r

LOIS: That must have been an extremely trying time for Pastor Russell.

MARIA: It was; and he realized what the outcome of it might mean to him personally and what his enemies might try to make of it in the public press. But he had always taken the position that if he was to be a servant of God, he could never forsake God's principles or the policy set forth in the Scriptures. So he did the only thing he could do under the circumstances.


JOHN: Those still living who knew Pastor Russell well and were associated with him personally say that he was one of the most uncompromising men as to principle they have ever known. His record bears this out.


His faith was in Jehovah God and he maintained that position from the beginning and for this reason his stand was vindicated.

From time to time others endeavored to usurp the position of Pastor Russell, but they all failed. Commenting on these trials later, Russell said:

For years night and day we have forewarned the dear brethren that the harvest tests would surely be along these lines, and that supreme loyalty to God and to his Word and his providences in the Church would test our love for the brethren. Surely, too, we have long warned the dear friends that however we might point out to them the previous truths they must put these on as an armor, else they would be unprepared for the Adversary's attacks when they would come.

It is just what we might have expected, that our wily Adversary would attempt to keep the Lord's people from putting on the whole armor of God and fastening it on. More than this, he attempts to prejudice them against the very instrumentalities God provided to keep the "feet" of Christ in this evil day.—Psalm 91: 11,12.

From various quarters the word came to us that the leaders of classes were protesting that WATCH TOWER publications should not be referred to in the meetings, but merely the Bible. This sounded loyal to God's Word; but it was not so. It was merely the effort of those teachers to come between the people of God and the Divinely provided light upon God's Word.

Let us remember that Satan is behind such a move as that! He poses as an angel of light and a defender of the Bible, yet he has succeeded in blinding millions with Bibles in their hands and in regular Bible-study classes! Why would it be any more disloyal to the Bible to consult THE WATCH TOWER publications respecting the meaning of a verse of Scripture than to consult the leader of the class or any of its members? . . .

On the other hand we forewarn all that Satan surely will try to lead them to an opposite course—to learn, parrot-like, to answer Berean s questions from the printed page without comprehending the meaning. The questions should be discussed freely by all first, and then before proceeding to the next question the DAWN answer should be considered and discussed and understood. Never forget that the Bible is our Standard and that however God-given our helps may be they are "helps" and not substitutes for the Bible.t

Here again is evidence of man's weakness for extremes. It is why the Scriptures constantly admonish balance in all manner of Christian endeavor. Russell concludes his argument on the results of these testings by saying:

On the whole, the "sifting as wheat" seems to be having an awe-inspiring effect upon those whose sight remains, making them more careful, drawing them nearer to the Lord and to each other. The effect upon the others seems to be the reverse. They seem glad to "separate themselves," anxious to bring about division, to boast of their "liberty." They denounce the majority because they will not allow the minority to lord it over them, speaking evil of them as "slaves," "in Babylonish bondage," etc.

It would appear that nearly every case of doctrinal deflection and blindness was preceded by more or less of a mind-poisoning by slander, evil-speaking, evil surmising. By such rapidly developed roots of bitterness the Adversary prepared the way for the error, in nearly every case. . . .

Mark them that cause division and stumblings contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17, 18.) Do not render evil for evil, nor slander for slander; but both think and speak kindly of them with pitying love, even as toward all men confused by the Adversary. (2 Cor. 4:4).u

LOIS: How could anyone resist a growing respect for Pastor Russell's position when the facts are considered? No one can deny that he labored under extremely trying conditions, yet the results of his work certainly speak in his favor. I'm sure many other men would have bent one way or the other under the pressure.

JOHN: But we should not forget, Lois, that Pastor Russell himself never attributed any of the results of his labors to any quality of his own. He always acknowledged his power and direction as coming from God; and when all the evidence is in, no other conclusion is possible.

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