Overland Monthly / OV435 - Life of Pastor Russell (By E.D. Stewart)
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OV435 Life of Pastor Russell By E. D. Stewart
PASTOR Charles Taze Russell was born February 16, 1852, and died Oct. 31, 1916, aged 64 years 8 months and 15 days. Thus in years, months and days, we measure the duration of his life; but measuring the duration of a life is not measuring the life.
"We live in deeds not years; In thoughts, not breaths."
We can count the number of his years, but many a man has lived longer to whom mankind owes no debt of gratitude. We can count the number of his days, but the value of a day depends upon what is put into it. One day may be worth a thousand other days, and how much he accomplished in those 64 years we can only begin to know when we learn the intensity with which he lived them.
In testimony meetings, thousands all over our land and in every land under the sun, bear witness to their gratitude to God that he has raised up a man who has been the instrument in his land of snatching them from the very brink of doubt and infidelity, placing their feet on the solid rock of Christ’s "ransom for all." Some of these men simply could not believe the Bible as interpreted by their religious teachers. They would not say they believed when they did not. They did not wish to be infidels, and they bewailed their lack of faith and hope. You need not tell me that normally constituted men are infidels from choice. You need not tell me that normally constituted men deliberately choose to believe and are glad to believe that they die as the brutes, with no hope of a future life. Many of these men are infidels not so much from their own fault as from the fault of their religious teachers who gave them an interpretation of the Bible contrary to reason and impossible for them to believe. Many a man in this attitude has gone to hear Pastor Russell. They have gone to the service infidels and came back rejoicing Christians. Their religious teachers kept saying: "Don’t go to hear that man Russell; he preaches dangerous doctrine." But, by the grace of God, they went and received the spiritual food they had been starving for, the spiritual food their religious teachers did not know how to give. It is no wonder that men would sometimes stand in a crowded aisle and listen to his inspiring words for two hours at a time without moving from their places—no wonder, when those words were bringing hope instead of despair, faith in the place of doubt, peace in the place of agitation and unrest, joy in the place of sadness.
When men with heart full of gratitude would tell him of the blessings they had received, he would simply say something like this: "Brother, I am glad you received blessing from God’s word; his truth is very precious." He simply ignored his part in the matter.
In proof that this was his attitude, hear his own words, as found on page 10 of his celebrated book, "The Divine Plan of the Ages."
"Though in this work we shall endeavor, and we trust with success, to set before the interested and unbiased reader the plan of God as it relates to and explains the past, the present and the future of his dealings, in a way more harmonious, beautiful and reasonable than is generally understood, yet that this is the result of extraordinary
OV436 wisdom or ability on the part of the writer, is positively disclaimed. It is the light from the Sun of Righteousness in this dawning of the Millennial Day that reveals these things as present truth, etc."
He believed that the time was due for these truths to be made known, and if he had not written them, God would have found some one else to do so.
One of the great objects of his life was to show that the Bible, when correctly translated and rightly understood is harmonious throughout, and gives the most exalted and uplifting conception of our Creator and our duties to him that is possible for a human being to attain. To show this complete harmony of the Bible, of all its parts, was no easy task. It meant labor. At that time there was great indifference on the part of the people. Most of them did not seem to care whether the various texts of the Bible were in harmony with one another or not. Each seemed more interested in seeking such texts as prove or seemed to prove his particular creed, and ignored such texts as oppose it. Even ministers, when texts were brought to their attention that contradicted their creed, would make such remarks as: "Oh, don’t trouble yourself about such matters as that. There is enough in the fifth chapter of Matthew to save anybody." They were merely seeking such knowledge as they thought would save them and their friends, and seemed utterly indifferent as to what truth honors God most. In #1Sa 2:30 the Lord says, "Them that honor me, I will honor." This promise is not to those who carry on some great work of charity or make some great attempt to convert the world, for these things are often done in such a way as to dishonor God. Many are engaged in these things; few make it the chief object of their lives to do those things and to preach those doctrines that bring most honor to God’s name. Most men seem utterly indifferent on this matter.
At a time when such indifference was widely prevalent, Pastor Russell began his work of showing the harmony of the Bible with itself and with the character of its Divine Author. He saw that there is no way to bring permanent blessing to the human race except through faith in God and faith in the Bible. He, therefore, sought to show how worthy the Bible is of all our faith and love. That was the great motive of his life. We know that this was his motive, not because he has told us so, but because the motive rings through every article that he wrote and every sermon that he preached. A motive like that could not live in a narrow life. It could not find room in a little heart.
Therefore it is natural for us, as thoughtful men and women, to inquire, "What were the events of his life and the various circumstances leading up to such a motive? What must his childhood, his boyhood and his early manhood have been?"
Charles T. Russell was the second son of Joseph L. and Ann Eliza Russell, and was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. His father was a well-to-do merchant, and the son, when not engaged in study, spent much of his time helping his father in the store. By so doing, he rendered himself liable to the awful charge that certain ministers in various parts of the country have brought against him, that in his early life he was "a seller of shirts." In this work, however, he developed the qualities of industry, perseverance and earnestness of purpose, qualities that have been such prominent characteristics of his mature years. As the father was a very successful business man, it was only natural for the son also to begin business as a merchant. In this work the young man manifested such business acumen that, in a few years, he was the owner of five clothing stores. In all this work he was so thoroughly honest and his goods so thoroughly reliable that his success was marvelous, so marvelous that some who then knew him believe that if he had continued in the mercantile business he might have rivaled in the accumulation of wealth some of the richest money kings
OV437 of his day. But his great desire was not to be rich, but to be useful. We need not tell you this, you may know it for yourself when you consider the following facts: At one time in his life, while he was yet a young man, the valuation of his real and personal property is said to have reached over $200,000. Of this $40,000 were spent in the publication and circulation of his first book, "Food for Thinking Christians." At various times he contributed large amounts to the Society of which he was president. In fact at the time of his death he had but $200 left of his own private fortune.
Notwithstanding this fact, there have been men so ignorant of the facts in the case, or had so little regard for truth and veracity as to say: "Russell has just started this religious movement as a money-making scheme." The utter foolishness of such a statement could not be fully manifest to persons unacquainted with the manner in which the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is operated. The very idea of a company of men getting rich preaching the gospel without money and without price, while their friends at the various appointments advertised the meetings "Seats free; no collection." The truth of the matter is that those ministers who have done this talking about "money making scheme" concerning Pastor Russell have simply been "measuring his corn in their own half-bushel." A man whose own life is actuated by low motives cannot appreciate a higher motive in another man.
In all of Pastor Russell’s work, and in all the work of the Society including missionary work, translation of the books into all the important modern languages, exhibition of the Photo Drama of Creation, etc., not one penny was ever solicited and no collection was ever taken. That, of course, does not mean that money has not been liberally contributed, but every contribution is and must be absolutely voluntary and unsolicited.
Two years ago last summer in the northern part of Pennsylvania, a little girl eight years old came to me after the services and said: "Here is five cents to help other little boys and girls to see the Photo Drama." The five cents were forwarded to the Watch Tower office, along with larger contributions, and in the course of a few days the proper officer of the Society sent her a receipt with just the same care that a $50 contribution in a neighboring town was receipted for.
Pastor Russell was a man of great faith, and he always had perfect confidence that money would be forthcoming for every work that the Lord wanted done. On one occasion, after he had spoken to a large audience, he was shaking hands with the people as they passed out, when a man handed him an envelope. He put it into his pocket and went on shaking hands. After a few minutes some of the brethren were consulting with him concerning some work that all agreed would be good to have done; "but where was the money to come from?" Brother Russell said: "If it is a work the Lord wants done, he will see that the money is provided." He opened the envelope. It contained a check for one thousand dollars, and the work went on.
Men have sometimes come to him and said: "Brother Russell, I have been greatly blessed by your explanation of the Scriptures. I feel that this is a great work. How can I get some money into it?" This may sound strange to men who all their lives have been dunned for money "to pay the preacher," but "Truth is stranger than fiction." "The Lord loveth a cheerful giver. The cattle on a thousand hills are his," and he does not need money that must be begged for or raffled for at box socials or church fairs.
His "Divine Plan of the Ages" has a circulation several times that of any other book ever published in the English language except the Bible. He is the author of five other principal books and of numerous booklets and tracts. He is also the author of the "Photo Drama of Creation," which has been seen and heard by over nine millions
OV438 of people. His sermons of recent years have appeared regularly every week in over a thousand newspapers, and are read by millions of people.
While Pastor Russell had his friends and admirers he also had his enemies and persecutors. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." So if any one is not suffering persecution he is not living godly in Christ Jesus. When you read that a certain man did not have an enemy in the world, you have found a man that never steadfastly and earnestly opposed the wrong. On the other hand, every man that has done anything earnestly to free the race from wrong and error and superstition has had his opposers and persecutors. Christ and all his apostles save one suffered martyrdom for the truth they preached, and from that day to this, every man who stood for unpopular truth and against popular error has had his persecutors. So Pastor Russell has likewise had his persecutors who tried to minimize his work, burned his books and attempted to destroy his good name. Yes, they sometimes burned his books, and they did so for the very same reason that they used to burn the Bibles; they were afraid of the truth there was in them. But the more they burned the books, the more the truth spread.
I had the pleasure a few months ago of speaking in a town where, not long before, some of the religionists had got together and agreed to advise the people to burn Pastor Russell’s books. In a few weeks colporteurs came into the town and sold far more books than had been burned. The bigots who had burned the books had merely aroused the curiosity of the people. In the Dark Ages they sometimes sought to terrify the people by burning the Bibles in the streets, and thus compel them to submit to the prescribed forms of religion, the "Orthodox" forms. There is too much of the spirit of liberty and tolerance in free America for such an indignity to be perpetrated to-day without arousing a sense of justice in the minds of those who hate tyranny.
It is interesting to note how the books have found their way through the hands of those who did not appreciate them into the hands of those who did. It often happens that one man buys and does not appreciate them, then loans them to another man who enjoys them with all his heart. At one of the conventions, a lady tells us that a friend sent her "The Divine Plan of the Ages" and she burned it. Another friend sent her a second book of the same kind, and she burned it. A third friend sent her a third book, and she stopped and thought. It is sometimes a good thing to stop and think. "Finally," says she, "I read this book and it burned me." By this, I suppose, she means that it burned away all her prejudice and left her ready for the heart-glow of joy that comes to those who see what beautiful truth God has in store for those who are ready to enjoy it.
The parents of Charles T. Russell were of the "orthodox" faith, and up to the age of fifteen he believed all and only such doctrines as his sectarian ministers took the trouble to teach him. To fully understand doctrines at that time was very difficult. The clergy as a rule discouraged questions. So he simply believed the doctrines of the church he attended, especially the doctrine of the eternal torment of all except the saints. His favorite teacher was Spurgeon, because, as he said, "he peppered it hot," his claim being that if one believed a thing he should tell it with all his might. So at the age of fifteen he used to go about the city of Pittsburgh on Saturday evenings with a piece of chalk writing on the fence boards and telling the people not to fail to attend church on Sunday, so that they might escape that terrible hell in which he so firmly believed. At about this time it seems that Providence had decreed that he should attempt to reclaim an infidel friend to Christianity. By skillful questions that neither layman or minister could answer and hold to the accepted creed, the infidel completely routed young Russell, and he became
OV439 a skeptic. He saw, for instance, that with the doctrine of eternal torment in it he could not believe the Bible; though he still held to a belief in God and the hope of a future life.
As he desired to learn the truth in regard to the hereafter, the next few years were devoted to the investigation of the claims of the leading Oriental religions, all of which he found unworthy of credence. At the age of twenty he was possessed of much knowledge and voluminous data in regard to "religion" as believed and practiced in all parts of the world, but his mind was unsatisfied and unsettled.
At length he decided to search the Scriptures for their own answer on hell-fire and brimstone. Here was the turning point in his life. Picture to yourself a young man in the early twenties with large business responsibilities upon him, and with little time for research, and yet longing to know the truth in regard to the great hereafter. He believed that the Creator of all things must be a loving God, and in harmony with this he read in the Bible, "God is love." He also read, "The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." That too was in harmony with what he believed the character of the Creator must be. But how could he harmonize this with what his creed taught?
How could God’s tender mercies be over all his works when some of his works, some of his creatures, were to be roasted eternally in an abyss of fire and terrors? How could there be any "tender mercies" in a course like that? How could our loving Creator be a God like that? Then the question came, Does the Bible really teach the eternal torture of the unsaved?
As he searched the Scriptures for the answer, the answer came. Not one text, merely, but texts by the hundreds showing the foolishness and unreasonableness of the doctrine of eternal torment. We do not know the order in which these texts came to his mind, but we know that they came. He read, "The Lord preserveth all them that love him" (Yes, he preserveth them, to all eternity) "but all the wicked will be destroyed." It does not say "All the wicked will he roast eternally." Again he reads, "He that converteth the sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death," not from eternal torment. Again he reads "The soul that sinneth it shall die," not live in torment eternally.
In fact, he saw that all the comparisons and contrasts in the Bible are never between life in happiness and life in misery, but always between life and death, eternal life or eternal death, all the wicked utterly destroyed in what the Scriptures call "the second death," so completely destroyed that "they shall be as though they had not been," and even "the remembrance of the wicked shall rot," utterly pass from the memory of all forever.
Then this young man saw God finally triumphant over all evil, when "at his name every knee shall bow," when "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father." So he saw the whole glad universe uniting in one grand hymn of praise to the Creator, no room in that happy universe for men or demons who choose to remain in rebellion against the Creator, but all ready to join in a hymn of praise. Then this young man saw a loving God looking down upon a sin-cursed earth with an eye of pity and love, and in order to make it possible for us to have eternal life, he must give what was dearest to him in the whole universe. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not die eternally but live eternally." When, as a young man, Charles T. Russell saw all this and far more, his great heart was thrilled to its very depths. He was ready to do anything for the God he had found to be so wise, so loving, so wonderful. It was then that he gave his heart to the Lord in full consecration, ready to do or say or be whatever the Lord might show him. Little
OV440 did he care for wealth, or fame, or worldly pleasure. He had found a better God than he before had known, and he must tell it, and he did tell it out with a shout, hallelujah!
Praise God’s holy name, that he has found a man strong enough, true enough, brave enough to vindicate His character from the unscriptural and unreasonable doctrine of eternal torment. To the very ends of the earth he has told the Bible truth that "the wages of sin is death," and not eternal torment. Yes, and his words have been heard, heard by many who will not admit that they have heard, believed by many who will not admit that they believe. A few years ago a minister who was then preaching in this country was asked by one of his parishioners if he believed the doctrine of eternal torment. He admitted that he did not. "Then why do you preach it?" asked the parishioner. "Oh, there has to be some kind of a whip to bring them in," was the reply. A minister who used to preach in Waynesburg made the same admission to one of his parishioners.
"Then why don’t you tell your congregation so?" said the parishioner. "If I did that, I could not hold this pastorate," was the reply. A minister of Washington, Pa., made the same admission. The young man said to the minister: "Then, why don’t you tell your congregation? He replied: "Young man, my bread isn’t buttered on that side." That is the very class of men that are circulating false reports about Pastor Russell and other men who are opposing their false doctrines.
"Yes, but in regard to Pastor Russell’s character, the people say__________" Yes, "the people say" and "the people said" are the cudgels with which Satan has destroyed the reputation of many an innocent man. A few years ago, W. W. Giles, a leading financier of Brown Summit, N.C., made the following offer and published it broadcast wherever the English language is spoken: "I have deposited $1,000 in the American Exchange National Bank of Greensboro, N.C., and $500 in the First National Bank of Miami, Florida, to be paid to the first person who proves through any court of justice in the United States that Pastor Russell is guilty of immorality such as is the gossip of those ministers who preach ‘for pay.’" No one ever responded.
The editor of the Evening Journal of Wilmington, Del., about two years ago, published a statement that his columns were open to the publication of anything that might be published against Pastor Russell’s character, provided the whole truth was stated with all the related circumstances and accompanied by the writer’s name. Why did none of Pastor Russell’s defamers respond to this fair offer?
The people say! The people said! Satan’s weapon now; Satan’s weapon always. The people said that Jesus was a blasphemer. His friends on one occasion "went out to lay hold on him, for they said, He is beside himself." The people said that the apostles were unfit to live, and put them to death. The people said that the noble John Huss was unfit to live, and when they burned him at the stake, they confined a ball of brass in his mouth, in order, as the historian states, "that the people might not understand his just defense against their unjust condemnation." The people said that the brave Savonarola was a heretic and they hanged him and afterwards burned his body in reproach.
The people said that the noble Alexandre Campbell was a "heretic." "He is not orthodox." "He is little better than an infidel." The people said that the brave and true John Wesley was a "falsifier," "a fomenter of strife," "a breeder of contention." They talked about the jealousy of his wife against Sarah Ryan, the jealousy against him of the husband of Sophia Christiana Williamson and how his wife finally deserted him. Does what the people say, weaken our confidence in the purity of John Wesley’s life? By no means. The only difficulty was that he was so pure-minded himself that he forgot to guard himself well against impure minds who were watching to
OV441 find a charge against him. John Wesley, Alexander Campbell, Charles T. Russell, three of the bravest, purest men of modern times and the three most severely persecuted and slandered. Do we believe those slanders? Not if we are charitable, thoughtful and wise.
Their names will go down in history together as the three greatest and truest reformers of the last two hundred years. We have only space to conclude with a quotation from Judge Rutherford: From a personal and painstaking examination of every charge that has been made against Pastor Russell, I am thoroughly convinced and confidently state that he is the most unjustly persecuted man on earth. Notwithstanding this, his good work continues, and thousands testify to the blessings received therefrom. For many years he has stood forth to battle for the right. He is prematurely aged from his arduous and unselfish labors in behalf of mankind. He is loved most by those who know him best, and while he has some relentless enemies, his staunch and substantial friends are numbered by the thousands.
When the memory of his traducers has perished from the earth, the good name and good deeds of Pastor Russell will live immortal in the hearts of the people.
WILL HIS WORK ENDURE?
WILL "that Servant’s" work endure?
Ah, yes! Of this we may be sure: For he was faithful, wise and true And brought forth truths, both old and new.
Though Satan’s error now enshrouds And hides the light with darkest clouds, Our God will shake and then remove All things that He cannot approve.
"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again "And in its purity remain, Unconquered by the Devil’s arts In even its minutest parts.
Will "that Servant’s" work endure?
Ah, yes, with all that’s good and pure!
For sin and error flee away Before the light of coming Day!