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Monday, November 30, 2009

Alexander H. Macmillan (1877-1966)


Regular readers of The Watchtower will recall that just a few weeks ago, in the August 15 issue, they read an account entitled “Doing God’s Will Has Been My Delight,” as told by A. H. Macmillan. On August 26, in the late afternoon, Brother Macmillan finished his earthly life, at the age of 89. Since 1900 he had been active as a dedicated servant of Jehovah God, and for the past sixty-five years he devoted himself full time to Jehovah’s service. In 1918 he was one of the eight principal members of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society who were unjustly sentenced to long terms in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, only to be exonerated and released the following year. He was the last survivor of that group of eight. In later years, during World War II, he visited and spiritually upbuilt others who had been similarly imprisoned because of their stand as Christian neutrals. Funeral services for Brother Macmillan, held at 3 p.m. on August 29, were conducted by the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and then the earthly remains of Brother Macmillan were interred at the private burial plot of the Brooklyn Bethel family on Woodrow Road, Staten Island, New York. Brother Macmillan had firm faith that credit for the faithful service of those anointed to the heavenly kingdom with Christ would “go right with them,” because they would continue right on in their Master’s service, but now in the heavenly realm. (Rev. 14:13) We rejoice with Brother Macmillan in his obtaining of that reward.

Additional Reading:

Doing God’s Will Has Been My Delight

As told by A. H. Macmillan

AFTER living sixty-six years trying to do God’s will, I wish to say that it has been a delightful life. I feel like that Judean, David, who said: “To do your will, O my God, I have delighted.” (Ps. 40:8) I have seen Jehovah’s organization grow from a small beginning, when I dedicated myself to God at the age of twenty-three in September 1900, to a worldwide society of happy people who are zealously proclaiming his truths.

Few men in Jehovah God’s organization have had the privilege that has been mine. I have lived and served as one of Jehovah’s witnesses in three distinct eras of its history. I have had close association with three presidents of the Watch Tower Society and have witnessed the advancement of God’s people under their administrations. Although each era was as distinctly different from the other two as it is possible to imagine, each has fulfilled its purpose in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose; and I am convinced more than ever before, as I see the end of my service to God on earth approach, that Jehovah has directed his people and given them just what they needed at the proper time.

I have seen many severe trials come upon the organization and testings of the faith of those in it. With the help of God’s spirit it survived and continued to flourish. I have seen the wisdom of patiently waiting on Jehovah to clear up our understanding of Scriptural things instead of getting upset over a new thought. Sometimes our expectations for a certain date were more than what the Scriptures warranted. When those expectations went unfulfilled, that did not change God’s purposes. The fundamental truths we learned from the Scriptures remained the same. So I learned that we should admit our mistakes and continue searching God’s Word for more enlightenment. No matter what adjustments we would have to make from time to time in our views, that would not change the gracious provision of the ransom and God’s promise of eternal life. So there was no need for us to let our faith be weakened by unfulfilled expectations or changes in views.

I remember the time I was a speaker at a convention at Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1914. I spoke on the subject “The End of All Things Is at Hand; Therefore Let Us Be Sober, Watchful and Pray.” I believed it myself sincerely—that the church was “going home” in October. During that discourse I made this unfortunate remark: “This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver because we shall be going home soon.”

The next morning 500 of us returned to Brooklyn, where services would conclude the convention. Quite a number of conventioners stayed at Bethel. Friday morning we were all seated at the breakfast table when Brother Russell came down. As he entered the room he usually hesitated a moment and said cheerily, “Good morning, all.” But this morning he briskly clapped his hands and happily announced: “The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day.” Brother Russell took his seat at the head of the table and made a few remarks, and then I came in for some good-natured twitting.

Brother Russell said: “We are going to make some changes in the program for Sunday. At 10:30 Sunday morning Brother Macmillan will give us an address.” Everybody laughed heartily, recalling what I had said on Wednesday at Saratoga Springs—my “last public address.” Well, then, I had to get busy to find something to say. I found Psalm 74:9 (AV), “We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.” Now, that was different. In that talk I tried to show the friends that perhaps some of us had been a bit too hasty in thinking that we were going to heaven right away, and the thing for us to do would be to keep busy in the Lord’s service until he determined when any of his approved servants would be taken home to heaven.

Although our expectations about being taken to heaven were not fulfilled in 1914, that year did see the end of the Gentile Times, as we had anticipated. So not all our expectations for that year went unfulfilled. But we were not particularly disturbed that not everything took place as we had expected, because we were so busy with the Photo-Drama work and with the problems created by the war.


Brother Russell realized that even though some individual members of the spiritual flock were left on earth, this would not alter or affect the time schedule for bringing an end to the uninterrupted rule of the nations, or Gentile Times. He continually emphasized, “The next thing now in order is the establishment of the glorious Kingdom at the hands of this great Mediator,” the Son of God. This view caused many questions to come into our minds. One of which was how Matthew 24:14, about the worldwide preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom, would be fulfilled.

In this connection I recall an incident that occurred just a short while before Brother Russell died. He always spent the forenoon from 8 a.m. until noon in his study, preparing Watch Tower articles and doing any other writing he had to do that called for Bible research. Nobody ever went near the study during those hours unless they were sent for or had something very important. About five minutes after eight, a stenographer came running down the stairs and said to me: “Brother Russell wants to see you in the study.” I thought, “What have I been doing now?” To be called to the study in the morning meant there was something important.

I went to the study and he said: “Come in, brother. Please walk into the drawing room.” It was an extension of the study. He said: “Brother, are you as deeply interested in the truth as you were when you began?” I looked surprised. He said: “Don’t be surprised. That was just a leading question.” Then he described to me his physical condition, and I knew enough about physical diagnosis to know that he would not live very many more months unless he had some relief. He said: “Well, now, brother, what I wanted to tell you is this. I am not able to carry on the work any longer, and yet there is a great work to be done. O there is a worldwide work to be done.” I stayed there for three hours, and he described the extensive preaching work I see Jehovah’s people doing today. He saw it from what he read in the Bible.

I said: “Brother Russell, what you are talking about doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make good sense.”

“What do you mean, brother?” he asked.

“You going to die and this work going on?” I replied. “Why, when you die we will all complacently fold our arms and wait to go to heaven with you. We will quit then.”

“Brother,” he said, “if that is your idea, you don’t see the issue. This is not man’s work. I am not important to this work. The light is getting brighter. There is a great work ahead.”

I was wrong about our folding our arms and quitting when he died. The work continued, and as time passed we began working harder than ever. The extent of the work Jehovah’s people are doing today proves how wrong I was. Indeed, this is not man’s work.

After outlining the work ahead, Brother Russell said: “Now, what I want is someone who will come in here to take the responsibility from me. I’ll still direct the work, but I’m not able to attend to it as I have in the past.” So we discussed various persons. Finally, when I left and passed through a sliding door into the hallway, he said: “Just a minute. You go to your room and talk to the Lord on this matter and come and tell me if Brother Macmillan will accept this job.” He closed the door without my saying anything more. Well, I think I stood there half dazed. What could I do to assist Brother Russell in this work? It required a man that would have some business abilities about him, and all I knew was how to preach religion. However, I thought it over and came back later and said to him: “Brother, I’ll do anything that I possibly can. I don’t care where you put me.” So he put me in charge while he went on a trip to California from which he never returned.

On Tuesday, October 31, 1916, Brother Russell died while traveling by train to Pampa, Texas. What a shock that was! When I read the telegram regarding his death to the Bethel family at breakfast the next morning, there were moans all over the dining room. Well, we went along the best we could, not knowing what to do. I tried to explain to them what Brother Russell said to me about the great work ahead, but they said: “Who’s going to attend to it?”


Well, we formed a committee, an executive committee: The treasurer, the vice-president and I, along with Brother Rutherford, who was made chairman. This committee kept things going until election of officers came in January of 1917. The question as to who would be put into the office of president of the Watch Tower Society now came up. Brother Van Amburgh came to me one day and said, “Brother, what do you think about it?” I replied: “There is only one person, whether you like it or not. There is only one man who can take charge of this work now, and that is Brother Rutherford.” He took me by the hand and said: “I’m with you.” Brother Rutherford did not know what was going on. He did not do any electioneering for votes. When the election came he was elected president, and he continued as such until his death on January 8, 1942.

I first met Brother Rutherford in 1905 when Brother Russell and I were making a trip across the United States. At Kansas City the brothers were preparing to entertain us. They asked Judge Rutherford in Missouri to come and help them. All they knew about him was that he had the Studies in the Scriptures. He came and entertained Brother Russell and myself and, as a result, we became well acquainted with him. A little later I was going back that way, and I stopped to visit with Judge Rutherford for a day or two. Because he served for a while as a special judge in the Fourteenth Judicial District of Missouri, he was commonly called “Judge.” So I said to him: “Judge, you ought to be preaching the truth here.”

“I’m not a preacher,” he said. “I’m a lawyer.”

“Well, now, Judge,” I replied, “I’ll show you what you can do. You go and get a copy of the Holy Bible and a small group of people, and teach them about life, death and the hereafter. Show them where we got our life, why we came into the condition of death and what death means. Take the Scriptures as a witness, and then wind up by saying, ‘There I have fulfilled everything like I said,’ just as you would to the jury in a court trial, and drive it home in conclusion.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” he said.

There was a colored man that worked on a little farm that was next to his city home, close to the edge of town. About fifteen or twenty colored people were there, and he went over there to give them a sermon on “Life, Death and the Hereafter.” While he was talking they kept saying, “Praise the Lord, Judge! Where did you get all that?” He had a great time. That was the first Bible talk he ever gave. As president of the Society he gave many more to the world by radio.

Only a short time later, in 1906, I had the privilege of baptizing him at Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was one of 144 persons that I personally baptized in water that day. So when he became president of the Society, I was especially pleased.


In 1918 I came face to face with some real trouble. The Department of Justice pounced on us and hurried eight of us off to the Raymond Street jail in Brooklyn. We paid the bail and waited for our trial. The charge against us was violation of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917. Because of our Bible educational work we were charged with conspiring to hinder the United States in raising an army.

During the trial the government said that if a person stood on the street corner and repeated the Lord’s prayer with the intent of discouraging men from joining the army, he could be sent to the penitentiary. So you can see how easy it was for them to interpret intent. They thought they could tell what another person was thinking, and so they acted against us on that basis even though we testified that we never at any time conspired to do anything whatsoever to affect the draft and never encouraged anyone to resist it. It was all to no avail. Certain religious leaders of Christendom and their political allies were determined to get us. The prosecution, with consent of Judge Howe, aimed for conviction, insisting that our motive was irrelevant and that intent should be inferred from our acts. I was found guilty solely on the basis that I countersigned a check, the purpose of which could not be determined, and that I signed a statement of fact that was read by Brother Rutherford at a board meeting. Even then they could not prove that it was my signature. The injustice of this helped us later in our appeal.

We were unjustly sentenced to eighty years in the penitentiary. All sentences were on four counts, twenty years for each, to run concurrently. That meant I would be in the Atlanta penitentiary for twenty years. The prejudiced judge denied us bail while our case was on appeal. So, we had to go to prison. Nine months later, at the direction of the United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, our attorneys once again made application to the Circuit Court of Appeals at New York for bail. It was granted on March 21, 1919, and then on May 14, 1919, the court reversed the decision of the lower court. In his opinion Judge Ward said: “The defendants in this case did not have the temperate and impartial trial to which they were entitled and for that reason the judgment was reversed.” The effort of our enemies to frame mischief by means of the law did not succeed in putting us away for twenty years or in destroying the Lord’s work.

When we entered the Atlanta penitentiary the deputy warden said to us: “You gentlemen are in this prison for a long time. We are going to give you some work to do. Now, what can you do?”

I told him, “I’ve never done anything in my life but preach. Have you anything like that here?”

“No, sir!” he said. “That’s what you are in here for, and I tell you now you are not doing any preaching here.”

Well, after a while they started a Sunday-school class and grouped up different inmates. I was given a class of Jewish prisoners, about fifteen, and Brother Rutherford had a class. We each had one. The class was following the Quarterly Sunday lessons. Our lessons began with Abraham, the promises made to him and Isaac and Jacob, all the way down. That was just fine for me. One day I met the deputy warden out on the field and he said: “Macmillan, those lessons you are having there are wonderful. I attend them all and I think that in time you will take all those Jews into the Promised Land.”

“Well,” I said, “when I came in here you told me I wasn’t to do any preaching.”

“Oh, forget that,” he said.

So then the flu came along and our Sunday school was discontinued. But before we left the prison, Brother Rutherford talked to the class for about three-quarters of an hour. We had a number of prison officers there, and many of the men had tears running down their cheeks. They were deeply impressed. We left a little group in there that remained faithful.

Another incident of interest that took place in the prison was regarding the reelection of the Society’s officers. When the day arrived for it, Brother Rutherford expressed concern that disgruntled persons in the organization who had helped our religious and political enemies to put us in prison would try to take over the Society and destroy it. I told him that, since we could not be there to influence the election by our presence, this would be a chance for the Lord to show whom he wanted to have as the Society’s president.

The next morning he rapped on the cell wall and said, “Poke your hand out.” When I did, he handed me a telegram that said he had been reelected president. Later that day he said to me: “I want to tell you something. You made a remark yesterday that is working in my mind about our being put in Brother Russell’s place and we would have influenced the election if we had been in Pittsburgh and the Lord would not have had the chance to show whom he wanted. Why, brother, if I ever get out of here, by God’s grace I’ll crush all this business of creature worship. What’s more I’ll take the dagger of truth, and I’ll rip the innards out of old Babylon. They got us in here, but we’ll get out.” From the time of his release down to his death, he carried out this promise by exposing the wickedness of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.

The prison experience and the trying time we had with certain self-seeking persons who had turned away from the organization and had caused trouble for us did not weaken my faith. My faith was getting stronger all the time because I knew from the Bible that Christ’s followers would have difficulty and trouble. I knew the Devil was trying to interfere with the Lord’s work, but he failed to stop it. So the trials that came upon us and the hatred shown us by persons who were once our brothers did not disturb me. This was to be expected. It did not shake my faith in the truth and in Jehovah’s organization.


It has been my privilege to do a great amount of traveling for the Society so as to encourage the brothers and to stimulate interest in the truths of God’s Word. On August 12, 1920, I went with Brother Rutherford and others from the Society to Europe on board the S.S. Imperator. It was Saturday afternoon, August 21, when we arrived in England. We toured England, giving talks in a number of halls that were crowded to overflowing. Five years later, in 1925, I joined him in Europe on another trip, at which time I visited the brothers in Poland.

Because of our interest in carrying the good news of God’s kingdom to the Jews, I had the pleasure of making a special trip to what was then called Palestine, leaving on the President Arthur, March 12, 1925. There I was able to talk about God’s purposes and visit places where Jesus had preached.

With the passing of the years I did a lot of traveling in the United States for the Society. For a while I had a circuit of twenty-one prisons to visit during World War II. Traveling 13,000 miles on the circuit, I visited them every six weeks to encourage our brothers who were confined there because of their refusal to violate their Christian neutrality. It was a strenuous task, but the joys it brought me more than compensated for the inconveniences I experienced.


For the last twenty years I have had the pleasure of working with the third president of the Society, Brother Knorr. Unfortunately, advancing years have cut down on the amount of work I am able to do. Before I began visiting the prisons I engaged for several years in the pioneer work, becoming a special pioneer in 1941. After Brother Knorr became president in 1942, I began visiting the prisons, and then, in 1947, I was made a district servant. I came back to Bethel in 1948 and began broadcasting over WBBR, the Society’s radio station, in December of that year. I had a daily program in which I discussed a portion of the Bible with a young girl, who was portrayed as my niece. We went through the entire Bible discussing each verse.

It has been a real test on me in recent years not being able to be as active in the Lord’s work as I was, although I am still regular in attending meetings. I have a constant fight against discouragement. Because of my physical problems it seems at times that the Devil is trying to test me as he did Job. But I know I must hold fast to my integrity as Job did right to the end. It has been hard for me to see the others that were with me in the Atlanta penitentiary receive their heavenly reward while I have been left behind. I am the last of that group.

At the age of ninety I can look back on my life and say that I would not choose a different occupation if I could live it over again. Instead, I would work harder and more diligently.

With the passing of the years I have had many trials and have had to make a number of adjustments in my understanding of God’s Word, but I saw no reason to permit such things to disturb my faith. Such adjustments are necessary in the spiritual growth of a Christian as God allows more light to be shed upon his Word with the passing of time. Whatever changes in views were made did not alter such fundamental truths as the ransom, the resurrection of the dead and God’s promise of eternal life. They did not alter the surety of God’s promises that are clearly recorded in his Word. So my faith is as strong today as it ever was.

Although my desire constantly has been to be in God’s service, there have been trying times in which I have needed encouragement. A scripture that has given me such encouragement is what was written by our beloved brother Paul at Philippians 4:6, 7, “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” It has been my experience that we can have peace only when we rely on God and trust him and his Word.

When I consider the great work God’s people are doing today, I find new meaning in Psalm 110:3, which says: “You have your company of young men just like dewdrops.” God’s people are like refreshing dewdrops that gently nourish a dry land as they teach God’s truths in frequent visits. Evangelists I have known, on the other hand, were like a torrential rain on dry land that quickly runs off, leaving the land dry again. They would deluge a community and then leave.

The wonderful expansion that I have seen in Jehovah’s organization and the worldwide preaching of the good news of the Kingdom that I see going on today bring my own years of preaching to a marvelous climax. It has been a privilege to work with the Society’s three presidents and to have had a part in this expansion. I can truly appreciate now Brother Russell’s remark in his last conversation with me when he said: ‘Brother, this is not man’s work. This is God’s.’ Doing God’s will for the past sixty-six years has indeed been my keenest delight.

- August 15, 1966 Watchtower, WTB&TS

To the reader:

A. H. Macmillan is known to Jehovah's witnesses all over the world. His long and prominent association with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and his faithful record of service as a Christian minister have endeared him to his many friends.

Toward the end of 1955 Mr. Macmillan asked permission to use the Society's files to write an account of his experiences in the ministry. Since he is a trusted member of the headquarters staff, he was granted permission. A few months ago he informed me the work was finished, and at his request I agreed to read the manuscript for technical accuracy. I soon found myself engrossed in the story which the account of his life and association with Jehovah's witnesses had produced.

This book is more than the story of one man's growing faith. I believe Mr. Macmillan has made a sincere effort to capture and portray the very essence of the religion that he acknowledges has given meaning to his life. He reveals Jehovah's witnesses as human. He admits their mistakes and explains why no human organization can be infallible. At the same time he reveals their hopes, and presents sound Scriptural reasons for the appeal of these hopes to all kinds of men.

The book is a straightforward and truthful account. It is unique only in the personal experiences of A. H. Macmillan. In many other respects it could be the story of any one of hundreds of Jehovah's witnesses whom I have known.

President, Watch Tower Bible
and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
Brooklyn, New York