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Monday, May 3, 2010

A young man in search for God

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In 1870 a zealous young man, Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), began to ask many questions about Christendom’s traditional teachings. As a youth, he worked in his father’s haberdashery in the bustling industrial city of Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, U.S.A. His religious background was Presbyterian and Congregational. However, he was perturbed by such teachings as predestination and eternal torment in hellfire. What were his reasons for doubting these basic doctrines of some of Christendom’s religions? He wrote: “A God that would use his power to create human beings whom he foreknew and predestinated should be eternally tormented, could be neither wise, just nor loving. His standard would be lower than that of many men.”—Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; 1 John 4:8, 9.

While still in his late teens, Russell started a weekly Bible study group with other young men. They began to analyze the Bible’s teachings on other subjects, such as immortality of the soul as well as Christ’s ransom sacrifice and his second coming. In 1877, at the age of 25, Russell sold his share in his father’s prospering business and began a full-time preaching career.

In 1878 Russell had a major disagreement with one of his collaborators, who had rejected the teaching that Christ’s death could be an atonement for sinners. In his rebuttal Russell wrote: “Christ accomplished various good things for us in his death and resurrection. He was our substitute in death; he died the just for the unjust—all were unjust. Jesus Christ by the grace of God tasted death for every man. . . . He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” He continued: “To redeem is to buy back. What did Christ buy back for all men? Life. We lost it by the disobedience of the first Adam. The second Adam [Christ] bought it back with his own life.”—Mark 10:45; Romans 5:7, 8; 1 John 2:2; 4:9, 10.

Always a staunch advocate of the ransom doctrine, Russell severed all ties with this former collaborator. In July 1879, Russell started to publish Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, known worldwide today as The Watchtower—Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. In 1881 he, in association with other dedicated Christians, established a nonprofit Bible society. It was called Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, known today as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, the legal agency that acts in behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From the very beginning, Russell insisted that there would be no collections taken at congregation meetings nor contributions solicited through the Watch Tower publications. The people who joined Russell in deep Bible study became known simply as the Bible Students.

A Return to Bible Truth

As a result of their Bible study, Russell and his associates came to reject Christendom’s teachings of a mysterious “Most Holy Trinity,” an inherently immortal human soul, and eternal torment in hellfire. They also rejected the need for a separate seminary-trained clergy class. They wanted to return to the humble origins of Christianity, with spiritually qualified elders to lead the congregations without thought of a salary or remuneration.—1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.

In their investigation of God’s Word, those Bible Students were keenly interested in the prophecies of the Christian Greek Scriptures related to “the end of the world” and to Christ’s “coming.” (Matthew 24:3, KJ) By turning to the Greek text, they discovered that Christ’s “coming” was, in fact, a “pa‧rou‧si′a,” or invisible presence. Therefore, Christ had given his disciples information about the evidence of his invisible presence in the time of the end, not a future visible coming. Along with this study, those Bible students had a keen desire to understand the Bible’s chronology in relation to Christ’s presence. Without understanding all the details, Russell and his associates realized that 1914 would be a crucial date in human history.—Matthew 24:3-22; Luke 21:7-33, Int.

Russell knew that a great preaching work had to be done. He was conscious of the words of Jesus recorded by Matthew: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10) There was a sense of urgency to the activity of those Bible Students prior to 1914. They believed that their preaching activity would culminate in that year, and therefore they felt they should expend every effort to help others to know “this good news of the kingdom.” Eventually, C. T. Russell’s Bible sermons were being published in thousands of newspapers around the world.