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Who Was Charles Taze Russell?

Donna Morley



         During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this world had seen more "prophets" than at any other time in history. They affected not only their generation, but ours today. To name just a few, there was a young fourteen year old boy, named Joseph Smith (1805-1844) who through visions, golden plates, and doctrines unlike biblical Christianity, developed Mormonism.

          There was a spirituistic medium named Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) who through her message of psychic healing, formed the "Christian Science" religion.

         Also, there was Guy Ballard, (pen name was Godfre Ray King, 1878-1939) who started the "The Mighty I Am" movement (associated with today's "Theosophy"). He proclaimed that we are Gods and Goddesses in embryo form and that the solution in life is to follow the Ascended Masters who have gone before us. Jesus and Guy Ballard are Ascended Masters, and we are all, after death, to achieve the same status.

         And so, it was in the midst of this spiritual "enlightenment" (and more) that Charles Taze Russell was born, raised and influenced. He too would develop a religion, currently known as the Jehovah's Witness. His followers would proclaim that Mr. Russell is unlike any "prophets" that had come before him, or after him. They tell us "he was the greatest religious teacher since St. Paul, and did more than any other man of modern times to establish the faith of the people in the Scriptures. He was not the founder of a new religion and never made such claim. He revived the great truths taught by Jesus and the apostles...."1

         Let's take a look at some of the truths Mr. Russell "revived" (we'll examine them against Scripture later on). Also, let's get to know who this man, Mr. Russell was. To give you an idea of what his followers thought, I'll quote from a Biography they wrote on him: "Pastor Russell was a great man....The Scriptures indicate that he was chosen of the Lord from his birth."2 "...Pastor Russell's character was and is without blemish. He was the cleanest, purest and best man."3

The True Story

           Charles Taze Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Old Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. He was brought up in a Presbyterian home and when he was nine, his mother Eliza died. At the age of fifteen he joined his father to work in a chain of clothes stores.

         At the age of sixteen Mr. Russell became discouraged and began to doubt his faith. The one main issue he struggled with was hell. He hated the thought of it. He said, "A God that would use his power to create human beings...[who] should be eternally tormented, could be neither wise, just nor loving. His standard would be lower than that of many men."4

         Soon thereafter, Russell's friend convinced him that there is no such thing as eternal torment.

Encounter with Adventism

           In 1870, at the age of eighteen, Russell rekindled something of his former faith on a chance encounter with an Adventist pastor who helped him re-establish his "wavering faith in the Divine inspiration of the Bible..."5

         It was at this time that Russell would become an Adventist and believe more than ever that hell doesn't exist. And because, in his mind, hell didn't exist, then this meant that the wicked, upon death, were simply annihilated (later he would preach that everyone, including Christ is annihilated at death, thus, Christ's body was never resurrected). He also believed that the soul became extinct upon death (which was similar to Adventist beliefs).

          As an Adventist, Russell organized a Bible class composed of six associates and friends who met regularly, from 1870-75. There, he taught about his new beliefs of no hell, annihilation, and extinction of the soul. The Bible class, hungary for Bible teaching, hung on Russell's every word. And, it was during this time that the Bible students gave him the title "pastor." Russell was honored indeed with such a title, and would use it the remaining days of his life. And, as "pastor" Russell would give his small group of Bible students an amazing prophecy.

Russell's Prediction of Christ's Appearance

         We are told by the Jehovah's Witness organization that,


Pastor Russell adhered closely to the teachings of the Scriptures. He believed and taught that we are living in the time of the second presence of our Lord, and that this presence dates from 1874; that since that time we have been living in the `time of the end,' the `end of the age.'6


         As Pastor Russell prophesied that the Lord would return in 1874 and that the end of the age had come. His Bible students were excited. They waited, anticipated, expected to see Christ. But, when Christ didn't appear, Russell defended his position saying,


Was an error found? No...[W]e realized that when Jesus should come, it would be as unobserved by human eyes as though an angel had come...Here was a new thought: Could it be that the time prophecies...were really meant to indicate when the Lord would be invisibly present to set up his kingdom?...[T]he evidences satisfied me. 7


         This statement of an "invisible" presence satisfied the Bible students,8 especially when Russell used the Scripture verse, “While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3, JW Bible, New World Translation). The King James version reads, "...what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?

         Russell explained to his Bible students that the word coming isn't the correct word. He said that the Greek word parousia really means presence. Russell had used the 'Emphatic Diaglott,' an interlinear New Testament, published in 1870. The Diaglott does translate Parousia as “presence.” Yet, according to The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 9 (and all other Christian theology books) parousia is also translated as “coming.”10 Therefore it’s important to look at Matthew 24:3 in its context. With Russell explaining to his followers, that parousia means presence, he was able to make his 1914 prophecy “stick,” and convince his followers. This was fabulous news for the Bible Students. And, there was more. Matthew 24:3 not only bids the question of Christ's return but it also asks about the end of the world. Russell had an answer for his followers through the use of pyramidology.

Russell's Use of Pyramidology

           Russell had told the Bible students that the end of the world will come with the beginning of the tribulation which had already begun to take place in 1874. Keep in mind, the Bible student believed this to mean that as trouble came to the world, they would be raptured. So, how was Russell so certain that the time of trouble would begin in 1874? Through the use of pyramidology (which has its roots in the occult). He explained:


Then measuring down the "Entrance Passage" from that point, to find the distance to the entrance of the "Pit," representing the great trouble and destruction with which this age is to close, when evil will be overthrown from power, we find it to be 3416 inches, symbolizing 3416 years from the above date, B.C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1874 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1874 years A.D. equals 3416 years. Thus the Pyramid witnesses that the close of 1874 was the chronological beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation--no, nor ever shall be afterward.11

         Incidently, Russell called the pyramid the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. It was a "miracle stone" and was "not planned by men but a work of God."12 Russell also called this