Watch Tower Society Takes Over a Work Already Begun
THE Watch Tower Society did not create the Bible Students, nor did it begin the work of disseminating Bible truths and preparing men for the return of our Lord. The Society was formed to expand the work already begun by Charles Taze Russell and his associates.
As a young man Russell followed the command of Jesus to his followers to “keep on the watch.” (Matthew 24:42) He felt strongly that certain denominational creeds, such as predestination and eternal damnation, were contrary to God’s love.
Through a search of the Scriptures, Russell and several likeminded friends came to understand that God purposed to redeem mankind from death through the ransom sacrifice of his only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus. He also came to see that the object of the Lord’s return was not to destroy but to bless all families of the earth by means of God’s Kingdom, and that the manner of the Lord’s presence would be invisible as a spirit in heaven, not visible in the flesh.—Genesis 12:3; 22:18.
To inform others of this timely information Russell and his associates published, in 1873 (1877), the booklet The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return. Four years later a book was published entitled Three Worlds or Plan of Redemption. In 1879 Russell, along with fellow contributors, began publishing the Watchtower magazine under the title Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.
This magazine was published to keep to the fore the doctrine of the ransom and also the blessings to come to mankind as a result of it. The printing of the first issue was 6,000. Russell pledged that, in connection with the publishing of this magazine, they would not beg for money but depend entirely on voluntary contributions. This principle was also applied to all meetings, which were advertised with the slogan “Seats Free—No Collections.”
Further nondenominational Bible research resulted in the publishing of many tracts and pamphlets, some being called Bible Student’s Tracts, Old Theology Quarterly, Tabernacle Teachings, and Food for Thinking Christians. More than a million copies of the last-mentioned pamphlet were distributed.
In the beginning, messenger boys were sometimes hired to distribute literature, but quite early the principle was applied that the message be distributed by the unpaid, voluntary efforts of those who believed, servants of the Lord. Already in 1881 a call was made in Zion’s Watch Tower for volunteers, preachers.
In 1881 and 1882 it was emphasized in Zion’s Watch Tower that all believers should be preachers. For example, the issue of April 1882 stated: “All of our people are preachers . . . we were all given the same commission: ‘Go ye into all the world and preach this glad tiding to every creature.’” In the October 1884 issue the appeal was made to all believers as ‘fellow preachers, ministers of the grace of God . . . let us make full proof of our ministry.’
So from the date of its incorporation in 1884, the Watch Tower Society was to work closely with the Bible Students, a true society of ministers.
Meetings were held regularly by these Bible Students. They were not content to meet just once a week like many of Christendom’s churchgoers. In addition to holding public talks on Sundays, they met in smaller groups in homes at other times during the week. A basic procedure was put into operation for meetings that, apart from public lectures, all in attendance share in the discussion and also have pencil and paper for making notes. This method of conducting meetings continues down to the present time.
It was in 1881, during the early development of these activities, that Zion’s WatchTower Tract Society was formed as a non-incorporated association, to provide funds and direction for expanding the preaching activity through distribution of Bible literature. In 1884 it was decided to incorporate it under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that, as a legal instrument not dependent upon the life of any individuals, it could better carry on the work of expanding distribution of Bible literature. This was finalized by the Court of Common Pleas No. 1 of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on December 13, 1884.
By that time the little congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had established these basic principles: nondenominational searching for Bible truths, distributing such in printed form by voluntary workers and supporting this financially by voluntary contributions. During the four years the Society had existed before its incorporation, nearly 200,000,000 pages of tracts, pamphlets and books had been printed and distributed. And this was only the beginning.
- Jehovah's Witnesses Centennial Brochure, 1984, WTB&TS