The "Jehovah's Witnesses" Question
The Jehovah's Witnesses are a very zealous people. They spend a great deal of their time standing on street corners selling their papers, Awake, The Watch Tower, Herald of Christ's Presence, and The Golden Age, and going from house to house playing their phonograph records and selling their books at prices below cost. The reason for their zeal is that they believe they are specially commissioned of God to testify the "gospel of the kingdom" in these "closing days" before Armageddon.
As a result of the proselytizing zeal of these people, they have grown to be a rather large group. They have scattered millions of copies of their books over the world; most of their literature has been translated into other languages, and published in at least thirty-five different tongues and dialects throughout the world. Though their doctrine is ridiculously absurd, they are growing rapidly. Not only are they growing as a people, but they have circulated their doctrine so vigorously that it has found its gradual way into the doctrines and religions of other groups which are not "Jehovah's Witnesses." They have even done damage to the true church of God. Their idea of a second chance after death encourages many to give up their fight for a righteous life here, and wait for the establishment of a future kingdom wherein they will have a second chance under ideal conditions.
This sect, sometimes known as Millennial Dawnists, Russellites, and more recently as "Jehovah's Witnesses," was founded by Charles Taze Russell, who was born February 16, 1852. This self-styled "Pastor" Russell was fanatically religious even in his childhood. At the age of sixteen, he was a member of the Congregational Church, and of the Y.M.C.A. His rearing and background had been Presbyterian. Early in life he had also come under the influence of infidelity, Adventism, Universalism, and Materialism. He borrowed from all of them in originating his doctrine.
In 1872 "Pastor" Russell hit upon the doctrine of a second chance. He predicted that Christ and the apostles would come to the earth in October, 1874, and that the consummation of the ages would occur in 1914. The year 1874 came, but Christ and the apostles did not appear. The "Pastor" and his followers were greatly disappointed; but he was not a man to give up. So in 1876 he got a Mr. Barbour to come to Philadelphia and help him mend his prophetic fences. Russell and Barbour together worked out the idea that Christ and the apostles actually had come in 1874, but were invisible to all except the "faithful." Hence the eventual use of the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" —those who had seen the Lord.
When the prophetic fences were all mended, the "Pastor" charged Barbour with unfaithfulness, and kicked him out of the organization. Thus Russell stood once again unchallenged as the head of the new cult. Three years, however, were not all clear and sunny for the "Pastor." In a sensational court trial the Pennsylvania courts ruled that Russell had tried to perpetrate a fraud upon his wife, and denied his plea of being penniless when his wife sued him for divorce. It was found that he had transferred $317,000.00 to the Watch-Tower Bible and Tract Society (of which he was president) with the apparent intent of avoiding the alimony payments which the court ordered to his wife. Mrs. Russell obtained her divorce from him on the grounds of gross immorality and familiarity with other women. Open court testimony concerning his character recorded him as saying this of himself :
"I am like a jelly-fish; I float around here and there; I touch this one and that one, and if she responds, I take her to me; and if not, I float to others."
Russell And Rutherford
Russell had cause to regret his summary dismissal of Barbour, for he was destined to need him sorely in 1914. That was the year that had been selected as the time when the "consummation of the ages" would be fulfilled. But 1914 came, and the ages did not end. The "Pastor's" prophetic -fences needed some more patching. The failure of the Lord to appear again in 1914 was a blow from which Russell was not able to recover as he had in 1874. He died October 31, 1916.
Upon Russell's death a Mr. C. J. Woodworth, a self-appointed successor, and Mr. George H. Fisher, a fellow-worker, tried to patch up the "Pastor's" cause by saying that Russell had made a slight error in his calculations, and that three more years would elapse before the final "consummation of the ages." In 1917 they wrote and published a book, the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Finished Mystery, in which they undertook to prove that the three-year mistake in Russell's calculations was the only error, and that the end of the ages would come for sure in 1918 instead of 1914. (Studies in the Scriptures, Series 7, pp. 58-62.)
In spite of the efforts of these two men, however, Russellism or Millennial Dawnism never amounted to much until a new prophet came along in the person of J. F. Rutherford. The "Judge" took up the "Pastor's" mantle along in 1919 and 1920. He, like Russell, was a man of striking personality, and a prodigious writer. By his books, phonograph records, radio broadcasts, and innumerable other types of publicity, he brought the sect to its greatest strength and popularity. Taking over the whole movement, he made only slight changes in the fundamental teaching of the sect, modifying some ideas, eliminating some others, and substituting new doctrines as he thought necessary. Once he was in control, the sect was ready to get going in a big way.