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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pastor Russell's Final Journey


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Departing from New York on October 16, 1916, Brother Russell and his secretary, Menta Sturgeon, traveled to Detroit, Michigan, by way of Canada. The two men then went on to Chicago, Illinois, down through Kansas and on into Texas. His condition of health was such that his secretary had to substitute for him at several speaking engagements. On Tuesday evening, October 24, at San Antonio, Texas, Russell delivered his last public talk, on the subject “The World on Fire.” During this discourse he had to leave the platform three times, while his secretary filled in for him.

Tuesday night, Brother Russell and his secretary and traveling associate were aboard a train en route to California. A sick man, Russell remained in bed all day Wednesday. At one point, taking the ailing man’s hand, Russell’s traveling associate said: “That is the greatest creed-smashing hand I ever saw!” Russell replied that he did not think it would smash any more creeds.

The two men were detained one day at Del Rio, Texas, because a bridge had been burned and another had to be erected. They pulled out of Del Rio on Thursday morning. On Friday night they changed trains at a junction point in California. All day Saturday Russell was in severe pain and experiencing great weakness. They arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 29, and there that evening C. T. Russell gave his last talk to a congregation. By that time he was so weak that he was unable to stand for the discourse. “I regret that I am not able to speak with force or power,” said Russell. He then beckoned to the chairman to remove the stand and bring a chair, saying as he sat down, “Pardon me for sitting down, please.” He spoke for about forty-five minutes, then answered to questions for a short time. Dwight T. Kenyon says of that occasion: “I had the privilege of attending Brother Russell’s last talk in Los Angeles on October 29, 1916. He was very ill and remained seated during his discourse on Zechariah 13:7-9. How his good-bye text, Numbers 6:24-26, impressed me!”

Realizing that his severe condition would not allow him to go on, Russell decided to cancel the rest of his speaking appointments and return quickly to the Bethel home in Brooklyn. On Tuesday, October 31, C. T. Russell was on the verge of death. At Panhandle, Texas, a physician summoned earlier by telegraph temporarily boarded the train and observed Russell’s condition, recognizing the critical symptoms. Then the train was under way again. Shortly thereafter, in early afternoon of Tuesday, October 31, 1916, sixty-four-year-old Charles Taze Russell died at Pampa, Texas.

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS


I kept doing many little, necessary things in harmony with his words or signs until another chill (the third one) came on. I folded blanket after blanket over him, tucked them in close to him; but still he shook. I therefore lay on him and pressed my face to his until I felt the warmth returning to his body. The fact that this was the third chill in four nights deepened the impression in my mind that the end was drawing near.

About midnight a great change came over him. He no longer cared for any of his medicine, and did not even seem to thirst for water as heretofore. Some things almost ceased. His pain settled deeper in. He could no longer lie straight in bed as formerly. He must sit up; and when he would lie down, he would double together, and his head would rest straight toward the window and free from the pillows. In this posture he would be quiet for awhile until his mouth would fill from his stomach, and he would signal to be raised. Being relieved of this, he would request to be lowered for comfort, until, to prevent strangulation, he would be raised again. This prevented it, and proper attention given, he would lie down again to get relief from pain.

This continued for seven hours with increased frequency and weakness. When he could no longer make his wishes known by words, he would do so by signs. When lying across the bed and desiring to be raised, he would lift his right hand and arm in such a way that my head would fit in the curvature of his arm and he could cling to my neck, while my left arm could fit around his neck, and thus elevate him to a sitting posture. This continued until the thought arose in my mind as to who would become exhausted first. I thought of the friends at home, of the many interested friends everywhere. I looked to the Lord, and steeled myself, saying, "I will stay with him to the finish."

In the early morning he surrendered. He was exhausted; and I could now lay him straight in bed with his head on the pillow in its accustomed place, and he could at last rest. The calm after the storm had come. He was now to die gradually, regularly, peacefully; and I was to stand by watching him, loving him, and expressing my affection for him by gently stroking his hair and his beard and rubbing his head, his face, his hands, and his feet. I did not seem to be able to do enough for him, now that he had passed beyond a certain line.


Several times on Monday I raised him up in bed, sat behind him so as to brace him; and his head would lean against mine. Once he whispered, "Have you anything to suggest?" I had; for I wished him to return direct to Galveston and take the steamer for New York, or else go through by train without stopping at Topeka, Tulsa or Lincoln. He answered, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," by which I understood him to mean that Topeka and other places would take care of themselves when we got to them, and that we need not consider them as yet. It was then that I asked him respecting the Seventh Volume, and afterwards sat meditating what to suggest. After a period of perfect silence I thought I would say something to him about dying and certain matters connected therewith, but I hesitated and hardly knew how to begin. He was sitting up in bed and I put my arm around his neck and said, "Brother Russell, you are a very sick man." His lip quivered; we lowered him, and turned away to weep. I had gone far enough in that direction. I knew not to attempt that again. It was evident that neither he nor I could stand it, and that nothing more could be done.

The most wonderful thing about this most wonderful man was that, during all his sufferings, trials, inconveniences and perplexities, he spoke not a word of complaint; he heaved not a sigh; he uttered not a moan; he shed not a tear. He had resolved that he would not murmur nor complain, and he kept his resolution to the end. He literally died in doing the Father's will, and thus fulfilled his vow. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth."


We watched by his side all Tuesday morning with but little to do except to watch and pray. Noticing that this was the last day of October, we concluded that he would died before midnight, and consequently wrote out the following telegram to the friends in Brooklyn: "Before October closes our dearly Beloved Brother Russell will be with the Lord in glory. We are alone in Car Roseisle on Santa Fe train No. 10, due in Kansas City 7:35 Wednesday morning, and he is dying like a hero. After embalming will come home with his remains, or else go direct to Pittsburgh." We called in the Pullman conductor and also the porter and said, "We want you to see how a great man of God can die." The sight deeply impressed them, especially the porter.

I called in the regular conductor, and telegraphed for a physician to board the train at Panhandle; and he did. He saw the condition, recognized the correctness of the diagnosis and conclusion, gave me his name, and was off before the train got under headway.

At one o'clock all were dismissed from the room, the door was locked, and we quietly watched over him until he breathed his last. We had observed the approaching signs of death before calling in the trainmen. These continued until the finger nails became discolored, the cold perspiration settled upon that noble forehead, his hands and feet grew cold, his face indicated a break, he drew his feet up in the bed like Jacob of old, his quiet breathing became less frequent, his drooping eyelids opened like the petals of a flower and disclosed those eyes--those wonderful eyes! in all their magnificence --that we will never forget. Presently he breathed no more; we pressed our lips upon his noble brow, and knew that he had gone to be forever with and like the Lord, whom he loved so well.

"Dear Lord, oh, use me as the Angel in Gethsemane! Oh, fill me with Thy Holy Spirit of Divinest love! Oh, make me sympathetic, wise, that every anguished heart May come, nor seek in vain for consolation from Thy Word, And strengthened, comforted, go forth to prison or to death, To suffer patiently the cruel mockings of the tongue; To bear the cross unto the bitter end, and then to calmly say, 'Tis finished,' and with faith unwavering pass beneath 'the veil!'"


December 1, 1916 Watch Tower, WTB&TS

“What Is Going to Happen Now?”

On October 16, 1916, Brother Russell and his secretary Menta Sturgeon departed on a previously arranged lecture tour of western and southwestern parts of the United States. Russell, though, was seriously ill at the time. The tour took them first to Detroit, Michigan, by way of Canada. Then, after stops in Illinois, Kansas, and Texas, the two men arrived in California, where Russell delivered his last talk on Sunday, October 29, in Los Angeles. Two days later, in the early afternoon of Tuesday, October 31, 64-year-old Charles Taze Russell died on a train at Pampa, Texas. Notice of his death appeared in The Watch Tower of November 15, 1916.

What was the effect on the Bethel family when news of Brother Russell’s death was announced? A. H. Macmillan, who served as Russell’s assistant in the office while Russell was away, later recalled the morning he read the telegram to the Bethel family: “A moan went up all over that dining room. Some wept audibly. None ate breakfast that morning. All were greatly upset. At the end of the meal period they met in little groups to talk and whisper, ‘What is going to happen now?’ Little work was done that day. We did not know what to do. It was so unexpected, and yet Russell had tried to prepare us for it. What would we do? The first shock of our loss of C. T. Russell was the worst. For those first few days our future was a blank wall. Throughout his life Russell had been ‘the Society.’ The work centered around his dynamic determination to see God’s will done.”

After funeral services at The Temple in New York and at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, Brother Russell was buried at Allegheny, in the Bethel family plot, according to his request. A brief biography of Russell along with his will and testament was published in The Watch Tower of December 1, 1916, as well as in subsequent editions of the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures.

What would happen now? It was difficult for the Bible Students to imagine someone else in Brother Russell’s place. Would their understanding of the Scriptures continue to be progressive, or would it stop where it was? Would they become a sect centered around him? Russell himself had made it quite clear that he expected the work to go on. So following his death, some obvious questions soon arose: Who will supervise the contents of The Watch Tower and other publications? Who should succeed Russell as president?

- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS