Partial rough draft

by vienne 11 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Phizzy

    Thank you Vienne for your work, and for bothering to explain so much to us. I tried to read your work with the same "eye" that I would have had when I was a JW, and really I can find nothing that would have offended me then.

    Looking at you words as the person I am now, I find you to be far more polite and restrained toward the WT/JWorg than I would be. Their secretiveness and their desire to control information so that they may present their, inaccurate, and in my view dishonest, version of their history I find inexcusable. Their denial of access to academic material is reprehensible too. Also I find that the changes they made to the original articles are very dishonest and designed to mislead their "flock".

    I admire immensely the quality of your work, the depth and extent of your research, and your perceptive interpretations of your findings. Please continue with this fascinating and excellent work !

  • vienne


    Thanks for your kind words. They’re really appreciated.


    Those are the ‘facts’ usually presented, but that’s not what the record shows. Here is what Russell and his contemporaries tell us:

    Russell was familiar with preaching on prophecies before he met Jonas Wendell, a “Second Adventist” preacher in 1869. Henry Moore, the pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church, the church Russell joined as a lad, was a student of the prophecies and preached on them. He left behind at least one printed sermon. Others within Russell’s early acquaintance in the Calvinist community also promoted prophetic speculation. Calvinists in Pittsburgh republished Archibald Mason’s speculations and date setting and remained interested long after Mason’s predictions failed. So Wendell’s preaching was not totally surprising to him. Wendell’s initial sermons were summarized in the Pittsburgh newspapers. And on that basis Russell would not be surprised by their content.

    But what did Russell actually hear from Wendell in 1869? A careful reading of what Russell wrote on the matter suggests that he was most impressed with Wendell’s comments on predestination and hell-fire doctrine. Russell does not mention prophetic content, except in one later reference. But we know what Wendell preached in 1869. Though Wendell started preaching about 1873 early the next year, in 1869 he was pointing to that year as the probably end ‘to all things mundane.’ He tells us this in a World’s Crisis article. The 1869 speculation derived from Aaron Kinne, a Congregationalist clergyman who wrote in the 1830s. W. C. Thruman resurrected it, claiming originality for the ‘research,’ but reading his “Sealed Book Opened,” it becomes evident that he borrowed from Kinne. Thurman, a Brethren clergyman, became the darling of Second Adventists, particularly Advent Christians, and many of them adopted the 1869 speculation. What Russell first heard from Wendell was the last gasp of this belief. Then the next year he heard Wendell’s proofs that 1873 was the end of the age when the world would be consumed in fire.

    We do not know how Russell received this. But there is enough evidence to suggest a reaction. By 1871 Russell was reading widely in prophetic literature. He was introduced to Storrs, Blaine, Dunn, Smith-Warleigh and a host of other Age-to-Come non-Adventist writers and to Seiss and to Richard Shimeall, a Presbyterian writer. From them he came to restitution doctrine, the belief that Christ came to restore paradise to the earth, not burn it up. And he came to believe in a two-stage, initially invisible parousia. This meant that speculation about world burning was, in his view, false doctrine. He writes about regretting the predictions of Wendell and Thurman and others. Who were the others? He does not say, but someone predicted the end for every year from 1869 to 2000. Among those who were or became his associates and acquaintances some pointed to 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1879 and 1881. Some of these predictions were on questionable basis, even from Russell’s later viewpoints. Some were based on a faked Mother Shipton prophecy and one on a supposed measurement from the great pyramid, and one on a predicted conjunction of planets. Though much is made of Russell’s beliefs regarding the pyramid, he wrote that it was a poor basis for establishing Bible chronology, that it should only be used to support what can be derived from scripture. But that’s something said past the period we’re considering.

    Did Russell oppose chronological speculation. It is often said that he did. What he wrote, however, is that because he believed in an initially invisible presence, the only way to know when it occurred was through Bible chronology. In this period his belief was: “It seemed, to say the least, a reasonable, very reasonable thing, to expect that the Lord would inform his people on the subject – especially as he had promised that the faithful should not be left in darkness with the world, and that though the day of the Lord would come upon all others as a thief in the night (stealthily, unawares), it should not be so to the watching, earnest saints.”

    So it’s not a reliable chronology he rejected, but Adventist speculation that included world burning and seemed unreliable. He was looking for a reliable chronological framework. When he received Barbour’s Herald of the Morning in December 1875 (Not Jan 1876 as usually said) he thought he might have found one. He also saw that Barbour et. al. had adopted age to come belief, his belief system and thought they might have progressed beyond Adventism into ‘truth’ – enlightenment. He wrote to Barbour who wrote back that he and Paton had been Adventists but no longer were. That they had pursued other doctrine. The other doctrine was age to come, doctrine Russell had learned from Storrs, Stetson and a variety of others, some of whom he mentions directly and some we can surmise from available evidence. What made Barbour’s chronology different was that it was expressed not in Adventist terms that Russell would reject out of hand but in Age to Come/ Literalist / One Faith terms that matched Russell’s theology.

    Did Adventism have an effect on Russell. He says it did, that it helped him to unlearn certain thing we can readily identify as Calvinist predestination and hell-fire. Did Russell believe he was adopting some form of Adventism by accepting Barbour’s redefinition of the events of 1873-1874? No. Instead he saw it as a step forward in his Age to Come belief in restored paradise. Should we see it as an Adventist influence? I think not. Russell did not adopt Adventist doctrine, and Barbour's chronology was not expressed in Second Adventist terms. The origin of the 1873-4 date was primarily in Anglican writings. Barbour even acknowledges this.

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