By C. T. Russell Pastor of London and Brooklyn Tabernacles
THE DISCOURSES of Pastor Russell, published weekly in several hundred newspapers throughout America and Europe, are causing a great awakening in the Christian world and creating a new interest in true Bible study everywhere. Recently he gave a notable address before an assembly of Bible Students on the text: "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me."—#Ps 116:3.
Opening his address, the Pastor apologized for the selection of such a text. He would much prefer to talk along the lines of Christian character-building, and the necessity of growing in grace and love, and thus becoming more and more copies of God’s dear Son. His apology was that his text, a sample of many other Bible statements, is so grievously misunderstood as to stand in the way of Christian progress. In conjunction with other Scriptures, it was woven into terrible theories during the Dark Ages. Those theories became imbedded in the various creeds of the time, and so obstructed the channels of thought that the grace, truth and beauty of the Bible were hidden. Many noble hearts, he claimed, are famishing for lack of the refreshment of God’s Truth by reason of the fossilized errors which block the way.
Perish for Lack of Knowledge.
The Scriptures foretell conditions exactly as they are today. They declare that there shall be "a famine in the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the Word of the Lord." (#Am 8:11). Again the Scriptures declare, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (#Ho 4:6.) It is certainly true that there are as many honest-hearted, conscientious, well-meaning people in the world today as have ever lived—perhaps more. Yet these well-meaning people are perishing, famishing, for lack of spiritual nourishment. True, there are some who claim to be well-nourished and to find in the popular pulpits of the land all the spiritual refreshment and strength they need.
But these are as nothing compared with the millions who give a different testimony. I am glad that those who attend worship regularly, and are well-nourished and well satisfied, have what they desire, at the mouth of a hundred thousand preachers. I am reaching out after "the lost sheep of the House of Israel," through the secular press.
They tell me that I am reaching millions of the unchurched every week. My readers are the discontented, the unsatisfied, perishing for lack of knowledge, hungering and thirsting after the right ways of God—the real teachings of the Bible.
My heart goes out to those as the heart of Jesus went out to the same class, nearly nineteen centuries ago. We read, "He had compassion on the multitude, for He beheld that they were like sheep having no shepherd." I am seeking, as an under shepherd, to bring these hungering, thirsting, perishing sheep to the true "Shepherd and Bishop of souls"—the Lord Jesus.
I am seeking to remove from their minds the prejudice and various obstructions which have hindered the flow of God’s grace and truth to their hearts. I am seeking in the Master’s
OV264 name to present to them the Bread of Life, the Water of Life. I am not seeking to build up another denomination.
Results show a certain measure of success already attained. I am receiving more than five thousand letters a week from hungry sheep and others, who, so far as denominational Christian systems are concerned, are homeless. Everywhere—all over the world—these, instead of forming a new denomination, are associating themselves with Bible classes for the study of God’s Word. I am simply doing all in my power to help them out of darkness into God’s marvelous light—out of misunderstandings of the Bible into a right appreciation of it; out of ignorance into a knowledge of God; out of ignorance of the Savior and His work into a true knowledge of Him and His glorious Kingdom, which is yet to bless all of the families of the earth.
It may be interesting to know that while I am advertised by the newspaper syndicate as the Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle congregation of independent Christians, and of a similar congregation of London Tabernacle, and of the congregation of Washington Temple, I have additionally been chosen pastor of more than one hundred and fifty of these classes of Bible students, to which I have already referred. They elected me pastor without any suggestion or solicitation on my part. In so doing, I understand them to signify that they recognize the Lord Jesus as the great divinely appointed Shepherd of the true sheep, and that they desire me to serve them in any way that I can as an under-shepherd.
Through the columns of The Watch Tower I visit these classes regularly twice a month, doing a pastoral work to the best of my ability—leading them to the fountain of grace and truth and breaking for them the living bread, the word of God. Additionally, they have my weekly sermon and a weekly treatise on the International Sunday School Lessons.
The True-Hearted Should Rejoice.
One would suppose that all of the one hundred thousand ministers and all their flocks would rejoice to know that the unchurched, straying sheep are being reached with a message of God’s love and mercy which is appealing to their hearts and working a transformation in their lives. Many do rejoice, but alas! a few are jealous, as were some of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Of these we read; "They were grieved that He taught the people"—the people whom they could not reach, the sheep that were straying and famishing.
As those jealous scribes and Pharisees antagonized Jesus and the Apostles, because their hearts were out of harmony with the good tidings, so it is to-day with some.
Unable to uphold the doctrines which have driven away so many of the intelligent of their flocks, famished for truth, a few ministers are angry with us. True to the Master’s.prophecy, these seek to say all manner of evil falsely against us, for His sake, for the truth’s sake. Yet, in spite of their unchristian course, the poor, straying sheep are hearing and recognizing the voice divine, are coming back to the word of God, are being sanctified by the word of truth.
I Proceed With My Text.
If this were the only text mistranslated and misunderstood, the ordinary reader would doubtless pass it by, saying: "I do not understand it. Probably it is a figure of speech."
But this text is merely a combination of mistranslations, all of which are connected with an eternal torment system of doctrines invented during the Dark Ages. It is this combined system which has such power over men’s minds. This power of error, this power of fear, is turning intelligent minds away from the Bible. Hence it is our duty to break down the false doctrines, and to clear away the obstacles which hinder the flow of truth to the minds and
OV265 hearts of the people of God—the straying sheep. Nor are these straying sheep all, or chiefly, the ignorant. They include many of the ablest minds and truest hearts in the world—minds and hearts too true and too logical to believe palpable falsehoods, or to profess what they do not believe.
The Psalmist is merely telling of his severe illness, from which by the grace of God he recovered. He would have us understand that it was not merely a slight ailment. He described his emotions in the language of our text, saying: "The sorrows of death compassed me about"—that is to say, the sadness associated with the thought that he was about to die, about to leave his friends. In the poetic form of the Hebrew language, he repeated this thought, namely, "The pains of hell gat hold of me." In our modern language this would mean the pains of death, or the pains of the tomb. They were pains that indicated the approach of dissolution. Nothing in this text has the slightest reference to anything in the future life.
Our Baptist friends, in their revised translation of the Bible, have chosen for such passages as this the expression, "the underworld," instead of the word "hell." Yet even here there is danger of the average reader not catching the true thought. Far simpler and far less liable to be misunderstood, would it have been had the translators said, "The pains of the tomb." The revised version of the English Bible reads, "The pains of Sheol."
Why Not the Whole Truth?
Every learned minister knows that the Hebrew word Sheol really means the grave, the pit, the state of death. Why do they hesitate to tell the people the whole truth on this subject? Why do they translate it part of the time "the grave," and at other times "the underworld?" Why do they use the translation, "the grave," in one place, and "the pit" in another, and then refuse to translate the word at all in the third instance, but give the word Sheol? Was it their intention to confuse the people? What is the motive? We wish that some of these great men would explain.
The Reason for All This.
We would like to have our ministerial brethren state their reasons for pursuing a course of hiding the truth on the subject of hell. Only because they neglect to give the reasons do we feel at liberty to suggest them. It seems to me that these ministers are of two classes, and that their reasons are therefore slightly different. All of them seem to agree that it would be dangerous to tell the people that God is really a God of love, and that the doctrine of an eternity of torture is entirely unscriptural, finding no foundation whatever in the writings of the Apostles.
They fear to tell the people that these doctrines were built up during the Dark Ages by the very men who manifested so little of the spirit of God and so little knowledge of God’s will respecting His people that they burned one another at the stake. They fear to tell the people that during the Dark Ages our blinded forefathers took the parables and dark sayings of Jesus as literal statements, quite contrary to the Master’s intention.
These they supplemented with certain crude misconceptions of the symbolisms of the Revelation. From the combinations they made scarecrow doctrines, blasphemous in the extreme, which never produced saints, but which led men astray into thinking that they were copying God in the deviltry which they accomplished one toward another.
The fear now seems to be lest the public should at once perceive that the creeds of Christendom, while containing much good, are cankered, wormy and vitiated by those doctrines of demons. Why should they fear to tell the people the truth? Perhaps it is because the religion of our day is built so largely upon man worship, system worship, creed worship, and not upon the Bible. Perhaps they fear that if
OV266 the creeds were thus discredited it would mean that the ministers of those creeds will be similarly discredited. Perhaps they fear that the people would never again have confidence in their teachings, and that thus all the various party walls of Christendom which for so long a time have divided the sheep would fall. We cannot definitely know of their reasons, because they do not tell us; we can only surmise what they are.
Others, very worldly-wise, have become Higher Critics, and do not believe in the Bible at all. They are really agnostics. But they do not desire to advertise their lack of faith, lest it should detract from their esteem among men. They prefer to pose as believers, and to hope that the time will come when all the wealthy and intelligent will become unbelievers also. Then they will declare, "We have not been believers for many years, but we kept the matter secret, fearing to be misunderstood as opponents of the best interests of society."
All the while, this latter class constitutes the greatest menace in the world to law and order, and are the best agents Satan has in making void the word of God and destroying faith therein. Robert Ingersoll’s methods of antagonizing the Bible were far less successful than the methods of modern higher critics and evolutionists.
Fear to Tell the Truth.
All who oppose the telling to the public of the plain truth respecting hell seem to have one common ground of objection. They say, "With all the fear of hell that has been preached for centuries, see how wicked the world is and how little human life is worth!
See how every law of both God and man for the protection of life, purity and property is endangered! Note that if it were not for our telegraphs, telephones and immense police forces of to-day, nobody would be safe, so much more wicked does the world appear to have become within the past fifty years! If the fear of eternal torment and purgatory were lifted from the minds of mankind, would it not make the dangers tenfold greater than they are now? Would it not speedily be necessary to double our police force, if the masses lost their belief in a place of eternal torture?"
This is lame reasoning, it seems to us. It confesses in one breath that in spite of all the false teachings of centuries wickedness has been growing. Would it not be wise to inquire to what extent the false doctrines, the misinterpretations and mistranslations of the Bible have been responsible for the increase in wickedness? Are men wiser than God? Is it possible for man to invent some monstrous, unthinkable delusion which will have a greater power with men than the plain, simple message of God’s love?
But if we were sure that by blaspheming God’s holy name, and by playing upon the ignorance and superstition of the masses we could make the wicked preserve peace, would it be wise to do so? Could God’s blessing be expected upon such a course?
Would it not be wiser for us, as the people of God, to have faith in Him, and to trust that, while we faithfully present the truth, Divine Providence will oversee and overrule its effect, and will influence for good?
Experience proves that theirs is not the proper thought. When we go to the records of the various prisons, penitentiaries, etc., we find that nearly all the worst criminals have been taught the doctrine of eternal torment. Many of them confess full faith in it. On the other hand, many infidels—once violent opposers of God and of the Bible and Christianity—after hearing of the love of God, have thoroughly melted, and with tears in their eyes have become loyal soldiers of the cross.
We heard of an interesting case recently. A colored man, in prison for crime, somehow came in touch there with my sermons, and then with my books on Bible study. He became a thorough Bible student, and a master at handling the word of God. His fellow-prisoners
OV267 came gladly to hear this colored man preach the divine plan of the ages from God’s word, while they cared not at all to attend the chapel services addressed by the ordinary chaplain.
In the "wonderful words of life," started by the Master’s lips, and handed down through His apostles, there is a sweetness, beauty and power that cannot be associated with the doctrines of demons, which became attached to the message during the Dark Ages.
The message of life everlasting through the Redeemer and by obedience to Him, has its offset, or alternative, in death everlasting to those who refuse to obey after full enlightenment. Eternal life is the gift of God, tendered to all the willing and obedient, through the Messiah. All rebels will be destroyed in the Second Death. (#Ac 3:23.) Their punishment will not be everlasting torment, but "everlasting destruction"—a destruction from which they will never be recovered, most surely will never be resurrected.
I CANNOT say, Beneath the pressure of life’s cares today, I joy in these; But I can say That I would rather walk this rugged way, If Him it please.
I cannot feel That all is well when dark’ning clouds conceal The shining sun; But then I know God lives and loves; and say, since it is so, "Thy will be done."
I cannot speak In happy tones; the tear-drops on my cheek Show I am sad; But I can speak Of grace to suffer with submission meek, Until made glad.
I do not see Why God should e’en permit some things to be, When He is love; But I can see, Though often dimly, through the mystery, His hand above.
I may not try To keep the hot tears back; but hush that sigh, "It might have been;" And try to still Each rising murmur, and to God’s sweet will Respond—"AMEN."