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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small Beginnings (1879-1889)

IN THE year 1879 it became evident which of the many early voices announcing Christ’s second coming were being chosen by Jehovah to be united in action as his witnesses. Now, 75 years later, it clearly appears that in those early days Jehovah’s hand was upon the small Pittsburgh (Pa.) Bible group under C. T. Russell’s chairmanship. For the eight years prior to 1879 these “layman” students of the Bible had gained much experience as to right Christian doctrine, prophetic time, and in preaching to the public as well as in printing their new-found truths. They were tested, too, as to their loyalty to the Bible on the issue of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, even though it meant severing of company with former religious affiliates.

By 1879 they had become sure that Christ’s second coming would begin his invisible presence; that a hard time of world distress was ahead; that thereafter would follow a millennium—the thousand-year reign of Jehovah’s Christ, to bring about restoration (restitution) of paradise conditions on earth with everlasting life for men of good will from all nations; and that the glad tidings of such “restitution” blessings should be heralded the world over. Their field experiences taught them that, as people soon forgot sermons and lectures they heard, it was advisable to add an educational service with the aid of books, pamphlets and magazines. They also came to realize that it was necessary for them to become better equipped to do their own writing, printing and publishing instead of leaving these operations to other so-called “Bible groups.” Those policy-forming experiences have influenced the Society of Jehovah’s witnesses ever since.

Having now withdrawn their editorial and financial support from the Rochester group’s monthly, The Herald of the Morning, the Pittsburgh Bible class decided to embark upon a great project, that of publishing for the first time their own monthly magazine. July 1, 1879, saw release of the first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Soon 6,000 copies had been distributed. Class chairman C. T. Russell was chosen to be the editor, with five other mature Bible students serving as regular contributors. The new journal’s first words were—

“This is the first number of the first volume of ‘ZION’S WATCH TOWER,’ and it may not be amiss to state the object of its publication. That we are living ‘in the last days’—‘the day of the Lord’—‘the end’ of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the ‘new’ age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony, and we are desirous that the ‘household of faith’ be fully awake to the fact.”—Page 1.

Here, then, we have the story of the birth of The Watchtower, which since its commencement has been regularly issued to this day. In 1892 it was changed from a monthly to a semimonthly, to keep pace with the ever-expanding flow of new Scriptural material. The record of its circulation is most interesting. From 6,000 copies in 1879, by 1904 there were 25,000 copies regularly printed; and by 1949 the phenomenal peak of 500,000 copies per issue had been reached. But that is not all; by 1955 the world-wide circulation in forty languages had skyrocketed to 1,950,000 copies for every issue. The long, faithful record in the publishing of the Watchtower magazine itself further bears testimony of the fact that Jehovah had chosen the small Pittsburgh group to start a grand publishing work more than seventy-five years ago. Truly now for many decades this journal has proved to be a channel of spiritual communication that is singular and divinely blessed.

Russell having spent the years 1877 and 1878 largely in preaching afield, zealously going from city to city, and also by this time having closed out most of his previously successful business interests, which had netted him more than a quarter of a million dollars, it became necessary, in 1879, for him permanently to locate in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, in that year he was married to Maria Frances Ackley, who had become a colaborer and a contributor of articles to the Watch Tower magazine. They came to have no children. Nearly eighteen years later, in 1897, due to Watch Tower Society members’ objecting to a woman’s teaching and being a member of the board of directors contrary to 1 Timothy 2:12, Russell and his wife disagreed about the management of the journal, Zion’s Watch Tower. Thereupon she voluntarily separated herself from him after they had arranged a financial settlement to enable her to live apart from the Society’s headquarters. This agreed separation, however, had absolutely nothing to do with a much later divorce proceeding (1906), charging “adultery,” as clerical enemies of Russell slanderously tried and still try to maintain. The court records plainly fix the lie to all those who falsely accused and even now accuse Russell as having been an immoral man, divorced for adultery.

Additional Reading:

During 1879 and 1880 efforts were made to organize small congregations of interested ones, that is, Watch Tower subscribers. More than thirty congregations had come into existence in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Ohio and Michigan. In 1880 Russell visited these congregations, spending at least six hours of study with each group. A special congregational songbook had been prepared, called “Songs of the Bride.” By this time it had become understood from the Scriptures that the Lord’s “evening meal” should be celebrated as a Memorial only once each year on Abib (Nisan) 14, the Passover date. This was quite contrary to the unscriptural custom of churches that held the “Lord’s Supper” or “Mass” many times each year. In 1879 and for a few years thereafter all the interested associates traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with this first and largest of the early congregations to celebrate jointly what they called the “Anniversary Supper.” At the same time they conducted a small convention for Christian study and fellowship, which annually strengthened the growing association.

These early congregations were called by the name in the Greek Scriptures, “ecclesias,” and sometimes “classes.” They were organized on the congregational and presbyterian style of church government. All members democratically voted on certain matters of business and also elected a board of seven or more “elders” (presbyters) who directed the general governmental interests of the congregation. (The first-century theocratic form of congregational control was not restored to Jehovah’s witnesses until 1938.) These ecclesias were loosely tied together merely by accepting the leadership and pattern of activity of the Pittsburgh congregation where Russell and other Watch Tower writers were elders. The Pittsburgh (“Allegheny”) congregation held meetings on Sundays from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. to hear Bible lectures; on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00 “Cottage Meetings” for prayer and personal testimony were held, and Friday evenings “Dawn Circles” were conducted for Bible study.

During 1880 Russell and his helpers were further busy in writing several tracts, each being numbered. After 1891 this tract series first regularly marked “Bible Students Tracts” also were called Old Theology Quarterly. They were provided free for general public distribution by Watch Tower readers to expose fallacies of church doctrines. Soon it was recognized that there was need for organizing a definite society to guide and direct the growing publishing work. So early in 1881 ZION’S WATCH TOWER TRACT SOCIETY was established as an unincorporated administrative agency with Russell as its manager. Russell and others liberally contributed $35,000 to get this tract-publishing organization going. They then moved from their 1879 headquarters located at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, to new and larger premises in the 40 Federal Street building from where he had formerly directed his early chain-store enterprise. Through this new arrangement began to flow millions of Bible tracts and the printing of additional Watch Tower issues put out as pamphlets. By 1881 Russell had completed writing the large pamphlets entitled Tabernacle Teachings and Food for Thinking Christians, the latter being a 162-page booklet which was printed and distributed as a special edition of the Watch Tower for September, 1881.

Russell, still under thirty years of age, and his enthusiastic associates were eager to get their message spread broadcast as quickly as possible. This is manifest in the following 1881 Watch Tower announcement, especially so when one recalls that then there were only about a hundred active associates with the movement:

“Wanted 1,000 Preachers. A vast field is open for the employment of the time and talent of every consecrated man and woman to whom the Lord has committed a knowledge of His truth. . . . To those so situated that they can give one-half or more of their time exclusively to the work of the Lord, we have a plan to suggest. . . . viz: That you go forth into large or small cities, according to your ability, as Colporteurs or Evangelists, seek to find in every place the earnest Christians, . . . As few could afford to travel, pay their board and clothe themselves without some income, we propose to furnish the TRACTS and DAY DAWNS [bound books] free, and to allow any such person to take subscriptions for the WATCH TOWER, using the money obtained from both of these sources, . . . in defraying necessary expenses.”

Eventually by 1888 fifty had volunteered for this full-time service toward the “1,000” eagerly desired. They were requested to submit weekly field reports to the Pittsburgh office. So here we have the beginning of the full-time pioneer (colporteur) service which in the course of years many thousands have joined as a valiant band of blessed Kingdom preachers. In fact, by 1954, the world over, there were 17,265 of these full-time educators.

An effort also was made to get all Watch Tower readers and especially all congregation-meeting attenders to commence a share in the field witness work by distributing tracts to their friends and neighbors. Note the following early instructions of 1881 as to field preaching:

“To those who would go forth to use either much or little of their time, we would say: It is a matter of great importance not only to teach the right thing but to present truth in a proper manner and order. . . . Present first the Restitution and the beauties of God’s unfolding plan; then show that all this awaits and is dependent on the King and kingdom coming. Then, when your hearer or reader has come to love the King and to long for his kingdom, may be quite soon enough to present the manner of His coming—that it is not Jesus the man but Jesus a spiritual [creature], who comes, unseen, . . . And lastly present ‘the time,’ that now we are ‘in the days of the Son of Man.’”

In this way gradually hundreds of Christian witnesses were nursed and trained to have a share in the field service. Here again we have the glimpse of a publishing work destined to swell like a mighty flood in our time, to cover the entire earth with a host of over half a million witnesses of Jehovah regularly going from house to house spreading Bibles, tracts and other Bible study aids.

But even today’s swift-moving mass communication seems foreshadowed in what young Watch Tower Society workers shared in projecting in 1881 for serving populous centers with the newly found Bible truths. Those early beginnings included unusual methods. Two examples:

“The manager of the principal paper of New York City agreed to send a copy of the tract [Food for Thinking Christians] to their entire list of subscribers, and several other papers of Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York favored us similarly in the work, for which they have our sincere thanks. [We omit the names of the papers only to save them inconvenience from applications from others. They say they have never before granted such privileges to any.]”

Additionally, for this far-flung task

“from an apparently small beginning, the tract work has spread to the immense proportions of 1,200,000 copies, . . . employed hundreds of men, women and boys in preparation and distribution, nearly 500 boys being employed to distribute in London [England], and about 300 in New York—other cities in proportion. The distribution was made in the larger cities at the church doors on Sundays.”

Also in 1881 two brothers were sent to Britain to augment spreading the work to Europe and they reported the distribution of 100,000 pamphlets in London and 65,000 in Scotland’s Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

- Jan. 15, 1955 Watchtower, WTB&TS