In what later appeared to be an attempt by the Pittsburgh ministerial alliance to discredit C. T. Russell’s scholarship and Biblical views, on March 10, 1903, Dr. E. L. Eaton, minister of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, challenged Russell to a six-day debate. During each session of this debate, held that autumn in Allegheny’s Carnegie Hall, on the whole Russell came off victorious. Among other things, he Scripturally maintained that the souls of the dead are unconscious while their bodies are in the grave and that the object of both Christ’s second coming and the millennium is the blessing of all the families of the earth. Russell also made a very strong Biblical denial of the hellfire doctrine. Reportedly, one clergyman approached him after the last session of the debate and said: “I am glad to see you turn the hose on hell and put out the fire.” Interestingly, after this debate many members of Eaton’s congregation became Bible Students.
Additional Reading: http://pastorrussell.blogspot.com/2009/10/russell-debates-eaton-white.html
Some of the clergy felt the need to destroy Russell’s influence by exposing him in public debate. Near the headquarters of his activity, a group of clergymen endorsed as their spokesman Dr. E. L. Eaton, pastor of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In 1903 he proposed a public debate, and Brother Russell accepted the invitation.
Six propositions were set forth, as follows: Brother Russell affirmed, but Dr. Eaton denied, that the souls of the dead are unconscious; that the “second coming” of Christ precedes the Millennium and that the purpose of both his “second coming” and the Millennium is the blessing of all the families of the earth; also that only the saints of the “Gospel age” share in the first resurrection but that vast multitudes will have opportunity for salvation by the subsequent resurrection. Dr. Eaton affirmed, but Brother Russell denied, that there would be no probation after death for anyone; that all who are saved will enter heaven; and that the incorrigibly wicked will be subjected to eternal suffering. A series of six debates on these propositions were held, each debate before a packed house at Carnegie Hall in Allegheny in 1903.
What was behind that challenge to debate? Viewing the matter from a historical perspective, Albert Vandenberg later wrote: “The debates were conducted with a minister from a different Protestant denomination acting as the moderator during each discussion. In addition, ministers from various area churches sat on the speaker’s platform with the Reverend Eaton, allegedly to provide him with textual and moral support. . . . That even an unofficial alliance of Protestant clergymen could be formed signified that they feared Russell’s potential to convert members of their denominations.” —“Charles Taze Russell: Pittsburgh Prophet, 1879-1909,” published in The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, January 1986, p. 14.
Such debates were relatively few. They did not yield the results that the alliance of clergymen desired. Some of Dr. Eaton’s own congregation, impressed by what they heard during the series of debates in 1903, left his church and chose to associate with the Bible Students. Even a clergyman who was present acknowledged that Russell had ‘turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.’ Nevertheless, Brother Russell himself felt that the cause of truth could be better served by use of time and effort for activities other than debates.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS
On March 10, 1903, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh ministerial alliance, Dr. E. L. Eaton, minister of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal church, formally offered to C. T. Russell a six-day debate on agreed Biblical subjects. (Later it appeared that this was a subtle attempt on the part of the associated clergy publicly to discredit Russell’s scholarship and teaching.) Within two days Russell in good faith accepted the offer, and the debates were finally held in the fall at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall before packed-out audiences.
(1) Sunday afternoon, October 18, Eaton debated affirmatively, that the Bible teaches that divine grace for salvation has been exercised since man’s fall and that there will be no probation after death. Russell Scripturally denied. (2) Tuesday evening, October 20, Russell affirmed that the Bible clearly teaches that the souls of the dead are unconscious while their bodies are in the grave. Eaton denied. (3) Thursday evening, October 22, Eaton affirmed that the Bible teaches that all of the saved will become spirit creatures, and after the General Judgment will enter heaven. Russell denied. (4) Tuesday evening, October 27, Russell, affirming that the Bible teaches that only the “saints” of this Gospel age will share in the “First Resurrection,” also held that vast multitudes will be saved in and by the subsequent resurrection. Eaton denied. (5) Thursday, October 29, Russell affirmed that the Bible teaches that the object of both the second coming of Christ and the Millennium is the blessing of all the families of earth. Eaton denied. (6) Lastly, on Sunday, November 1, with Eaton affirming that the Bible teaches that the divine penalty for sin eventually to be inflicted upon the incorrigible, will consist of inconceivably great sufferings, eternal in duration, Russell vigorously denied this hell-fire doctrine.
THE REV. E. L. EATON, D. D., AND PASTOR C. T. RUSSELL BEGIN GREAT DEBATE ON RELIGION
Carnegie Music Hall in Allegheny Crowded, and Speakers Listened to Attentively as they Discussed Probation
TELLING POINTS MADE BY BOTH REPRINTED FROM THE GAZETTE OF OCTOBER 19
Remarkable in the demonstration of religious interest, the series of discussions between the Rev. E. L. Eaton, D. D. pastor of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal church, and C. T. Russell, pastor of the Allegheny Bible House congregation, was inaugurated yesterday afternoon with a debate on the general topic of probation. The meeting was held in the Allegheny Carnegie music hall, and a larger assemblage had never been seen in the building. The remarks of both speakers were interrupted at frequent intervals with fervid responses and enthusiastic applause.
The Rev. Dr. W. H. McMillan, pastor of the Second United Presbyterian church, Allegheny, presided. Half an hour before the meeting was opened the hall was packed with people. The aisles of the main auditorium, the balcony, the stage and the vestibules were given over for standing room to the eager crowd. Preceding the debate a short devotional exercise was held and the singing of the hymns, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah," and "Tell Me the Old, Old Story" was entered into with the zest of worshipers at a revival. No collection basket was passed, and the following proposition was announced for discussion:
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. . . . . . . . .Maria Russell’s own belated acknowledgment came at the time of Brother Russell’s funeral at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh in 1916. Wearing a veil, she walked down the aisle to the casket and laid there a bunch of lilies of the valley. Attached to them was a ribbon bearing the words, “To My Beloved Husband.”