by Epiphany Bible Students

No. 709

 “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27)

October 31, 2016 marks 100 years since the death of Pastor Russell. This seems like an opportune time to present a brief history of the unfolding of Harvest Truth, as told by Pastor Russell. He claimed no superhuman wisdom or power, nor did he seek to exalt himself among his brethren except in the sense that the Master urged it in the scripture cited above. He noted that his position among those of the world and of the nominal church was far from exalted. Indeed, he was widely spoken against. (Acts 28:22) He pointed out that the clear unfolding of Harvest Truth did not come in visions or dreams or as the result of any human ingenuity or perception on his part or on the part of others; it was simply the result of it being God’s due time. Here, in Pastor Russell’s own words, we present:


Brought up a Presbyterian, and indoctrinated from the Catechism, and being naturally of an inquiring mind, I fell a ready prey to the logic of infidelity as soon as I began to think for myself. But that which at first threatened to be the utter shipwreck of faith in God and the Bible, was, under God’s providence, overruled for good, and merely wrecked my confidence in human creeds and systems of misinterpretation of the Bible.

Gradually I was led to see that though each of the creeds contained some elements of truth, they were, on the whole, misleading and contradictory of God’s Word. Among other theories, I stumbled upon Adventism. Seemingly by accident, one evening I dropped into a dusty, dingy hall, where I had heard religious services were held, to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches. There, for the first time, I heard something of the views of Second Adventists, the preacher being Mr. Jonas Wendell. Thus, I confess indebtedness to Adventists as well as to other denominations.

Though his Scripture exposition was not entirely clear, and though it was very far from what we now rejoice in, it was sufficient, under God, to reestablish my wavering faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and to show that the records of the Apostles and Prophets are indissolubly linked. What I heard sent me to my Bible to study with more zeal and care than ever before, and I shall ever thank the Lord for that leading; for though Adventism helped me to no single truth, it did help me greatly in unlearning errors, and thus prepared me for the Truth.

I soon began to see that we were living somewhere near the close of the Gospel Age, and near the time when the Lord had declared that the wise, watching ones of His children should come to a clear knowledge of His plan. (Hab. 2:1-3) At this time, myself and a few other truth-seekers in Pittsburgh and Allegheny formed a class for Bible study, and from 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace and knowledge and love of God and His Word. We came to see something of the love of God, how it had made provision for all mankind, how all must be awakened from the tomb in order that God’s loving plan might be testified to them, and how all who exercise faith in Christ’s redemptive work and render obedience in harmony with God’s will shall then (through Christ’s merit) be brought back into full harmony with God, and be granted everlasting life. This we saw to be the Restitution work foretold in Acts 3:21.

But although we saw that the Church was called to joint-heirship with the Lord in the Millennial Kingdom, up to that time we had failed to see clearly the great distinction between the reward of the Church, now on trial, and the reward of the faithful of the world after its trial, at the close of the Millennial Age – that the reward of the former is to be the glory of the spiritual, divine nature, while that of the latter is to be the glory of Restitution – restoration to the perfection of human nature once enjoyed in Eden by their progenitor and head, Adam.

However, we were then merely getting the general outline of God’s plan, and unlearning many long-cherished errors, the time for a clear discernment of the minutiae having not yet fully come. The study of the Word of God with these dear brethren led, step by step, into greener pastures and brighter hopes for the world, though it was not until 1872, when I gained a clear view of our Lord’s work as our ransom price, that I found the strength and foundation of all hope of Restitution to lie in that doctrine.

Up to that time, when I read the testimony that all in their graves should come forth, etc. (John 5:28-29), I yet doubted the full provision – whether it should be understood to include all those who had died without reaching any degree of understanding, beings to whom the present life and its experiences would seem to be of little or no advantage. But when, in 1872, I came to examine the subject of Restitution from the standpoint of the ransom price given by our Lord Jesus for Adam, and consequently for all lost in Adam, it settled the matter of Restitution completely, and gave me the fullest assurance that all must come forth from their graves and be brought to a clear knowledge of the Truth and to a full opportunity to gain everlasting life in Christ. (1 Tim. 2:4)

Thus passed the years 1869-1872. The years following, to 1876, were years of continued growth in grace and knowledge on the part of the handful of Bible students with whom I met in Allegheny. We progressed from our first crude and indefinite ideas of Restitution to clearer understanding of the details; but God’s due time for the clear light had not yet come.

During this time, too, we came to recognize the difference between our Lord as “the man Christ Jesus who gave himself” (1 Tim. 2:5-6), and as the Lord who would come again, a spirit being. We saw that spirit-beings can be present, and yet invisible to men, just as we still hold.[1] And we felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappoint­ments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of His coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed His coming Kingdom. These wrong views so generally held of both the object and manner of the Lord’s return led me to write a pamphlet, “The Object and Manner of The Lord’s Return” (some 50,000 copies were published).

It was about January, 1876, that my attention was specially drawn to the subject of prophetic time, as it relates to these doctrines and hopes. It came about in this way: I received a paper called The Herald of the Morning, sent by its editor, Mr. N. H. Barbour. When I opened it I at once identi­fied it with Adventism from the picture on its cover, and examined it with some curiosity to see what time they would next set for the burning of the world. But judge of my surprise and grati­fication, when I learned from its contents that the editor was beginning to get his eyes open on the subjects that for some years had so greatly rejoiced our hearts here in Allegheny – that the object of our Lord’s return is not to destroy, but to bless all the families of the earth, and that His coming would be thief-like, and not in flesh, but as a spirit-being, invisible to men; and that the gathering of His Church and the separation of the “wheat” from the “tares” would progress in the end of this age without the world being aware of it.

I rejoiced to find others coming to the same advanced position, but was astonished to find the statement, very cautiously set forth, that the editor believed the prophecies to indicate that the Lord was already present in the world (unseen and invisible), and that the harvest work of gathering the wheat was already due, and that this view was warranted by the time-prophecies which but a few months before he supposed had failed.

Here was a new thought: Could it be that the time prophecies which I had so long despised, because of their misuse by Adventists, were really meant to indicate when the Lord would be invisibly present to set up His Kingdom – a thing which I clearly saw could be known in no other way? It seemed, to say the least, a reasonable, a 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. (1 Thes. 5:4)

I recalled certain arguments used by my friend Jonas Wendell and other Adventists to prove that 1873 would witness the burning of the world, etc. – the chronology of the world showing that the six thousand years from Adam ended with the beginning of 1873 – and other arguments drawn from the Scriptures and supposed to coincide. Could it be that these time arguments, which I had passed by as unworthy of attention, really contained an important truth which they had misapplied?

Anxious to learn, from any quarter, whatever God had to teach, I at once wrote to Mr. Barbour, informing him of my harmony on other points and desiring to know particularly why, and upon what Scriptural evidences, he held that Christ’s presence and the harvesting of the Gospel Age dated from the autumn of 1874. The answer showed that my surmise had been correct, viz.: that the time arguments, chronology, etc., were the same as used by Second Adventists in 1873, and explained how Mr. Barbour and Mr. J. H. Paton, of Michigan, a co-worker with him, had been regular Second Adventists up to that time; and that when the date 1874 had passed without the world being burned, and without their seeing Christ in the flesh, they were for a time dumbfounded. They had examined the time-prophecies that had seemingly passed unfulfilled, and had been unable to find any flaw, and had begun to wonder whether the time was right and their expectations wrong – whether the views of Restitution and blessing to the world, which myself and others were teaching, might not be the things to look for.

It seems that not long after their 1874 disappointment, a reader of The Herald of the Morning, who had a copy of the Diaglott, noticed something in it which he thought peculiar – that in Matt. 24:27,37,39, the word which in our com­mon version is rendered coming is translated presence. This was the clue; and, following it, they had been led through prophetic time toward proper views regarding the object and manner of the Lord’s return. I, on the contrary, was led first to proper views of the object and manner of our Lord’s return and then to the examination of the time for these things, indicated in God’s Word. Thus God leads His children often from different starting points of truth; but where the heart is earnest and trustful, the result must be to draw all such together.

But there were no books or other publications setting forth the time prophecies as then understood, so I paid Mr. Barbour’s expenses to come to see me at Philadelphia (where I had business engagements during the summer of 1876), to show me fully and Scripturally, if he could, that the prophecies indicated 1874 as the date at which the Lord’s presence and “the harvest” began. He came, and the evidences satisfied me. Being a person of positive con­victions and fully consecrated to the Lord, I at once saw that the special times in which we live have an important bearing upon our duty and work as Christ’s disciples; that, being in the time of harvest, the harvest-work should be done; and that Present Truth was the sickle by which the Lord would have us do a gathering and reaping work everywhere among His children. (Rev. 14:14-15)

I inquired of Mr. Barbour as to what was being done by him and by The Herald. He replied that nothing was being done; that the readers of the Herald, being disappointed Adventists, had nearly all lost interest and stopped their sub­scriptions; and that thus, with money exhausted, The Herald might be said to be practically suspended. I told him that instead of feeling discouraged and giving up the work since his newly found light on Restitution (for when we first met, he had much to learn from me on the fullness of Restitution based upon the sufficiency of the Ransom given for all, as I had much to learn from him concerning time prophecies), he should rather feel that now he had some good tidings to preach, such as he never had before, and that his zeal should be correspondingly increased. At the same time, the knowledge of the fact that we were already in the harvest period gave me an impetus to spread the Truth as I never had before. I therefore at once resolved upon a vigorous campaign for the Truth.


I determined to curtail my business cares and give my time as well as means to the great harvest work. Accordingly, I sent Mr. Barbour back to his home, with money and instructions to prepare in concise book-form the good tidings so far as then understood, including the time features, while I closed out my Philadelphia business preparatory to engaging in the work, as I afterward did, traveling and preaching.

The little book of 196 pages thus prepared was entitled The Three Worlds; and as I was enabled to give some time and thought to its preparation it was issued by us both jointly, both names appearing on its title page – though it was mainly written by Mr. Barbour. While it was not the first book to teach a measure of Restitution, nor the first to treat upon time prophecy, it was, we believe, the first to combine the idea of Restitution with time-prophecy. From the sale of this book and from my purse, our traveling expenses, etc., were met. After a time I conceived the idea of adding another harvest laborer and sent for Mr. Paton, who promptly responded and whose traveling expenses were met in the same manner.

But noticing how quickly people seemed to forget what they had heard, it soon became evident that while the meetings were useful in awakening interest, a monthly journal was needed to hold that interest and develop it. It therefore seemed to be the Lord’s will that one of our number should settle somewhere and begin again the regular issuing of The Herald of the Morning. I suggested that Mr. Barbour do this, as he had experience as a type-setter and could therefore do it most economically, while Mr. Paton and I would con­tinue to travel and contribute to its columns as we should find opportunity. To the objection that the few subscriptions which would come in would not, for a long time, make the journal self-sustaining, I replied that I would supply the money for pur­chasing type, etc., and leave a few hundred dollars in bank subject to Mr. Barbour’s check, and that he should manage it as economically as possible, while Mr. Paton and I continued to travel.

It was after this, while on a tour of the New England States, that I met Mr. A. P. Adams, then a young Methodist minister, who became deeply interested and accepted the message heartily during the week that I preached to his congre­gation. Subsequently, I introduced him to little gatherings of interested ones in neighboring towns, and assisted otherwise, as I could, rejoicing in another one who, with study, would soon be a co-laborer in the harvest field. About this time, too, I was much encouraged by the accession of Mr. A. D. Jones, then a clerk in my employ in Pittsburgh, a young man of activity and promise, who soon developed into an active and appreciated co-laborer in the harvest work. Mr. Jones ran well for a time, but ambition or something eventually worked utter shipwreck of his faith, and left us a painful illustration of the wisdom of the Apostle’s words: “Do not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall have a severer judgment.” (Jas. 3:1, Diaglott)


“Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” (Luke 22:31)

Thus far all had run smoothly and onward: we had been greatly blessed with Truth, but not specially tested in our love and fidelity to it. But with the spring of 1878, the parallel in time to the Lord’s crucifixion and His utterance of the above-quoted words, the sifting began which has contin­ued ever since, and which must, sooner or later, test everyone who receives the light of Present Truth.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” (1 Pet. 4:12) For this “fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13) – whether he has built his faith flimsily of wood, hay and stubble, instead of with the valuable stones of God’s revealed Truth, or whether he has built it upon the shifting sands of human theory – evolution, etc. – or upon the solid rock, the Ransom, the only sure foundation, which God has provided. They who build upon that rock shall be safe personally, even though they may have built up an illogical faith which the “fire” and shaking of this day of trial shall overthrow and utterly consume; but they who build upon any other foundation, whether they use good or bad materials, are sure of complete wreck. (Luke 6:47-49; 1 Cor. 3:11-15)

The object of this trial and sifting evidently is to select all whose heart-desires are unselfish, who are fully and unreservedly consecrated to the Lord, who are so anxious to have the Lord’s will done, and whose confidence in His wisdom, His way and His Word is so great, that they refuse to be led away from the Lord’s Word, either by the sophistries of others, or by plans and ideas of their own. These, in the sifting time, will be strengthened and shall increase their joy in the Lord and their knowledge of His plans, even while their faith is being tested by the falling into error of thousands on every hand. (Psa. 91:7)

The sifting began thus: Regarding Paul’s statement (1 Cor. 15:51,52), “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” etc., we still held the idea which Adventists, and indeed all Christians hold, that at some time the living saints would be suddenly and miraculously caught away bodily, thenceforth to be forever with the Lord. And, now, our acquaintance with time-prophecy led us to expect this translation of the saints at the point of time in this age parallel to the Lord’s resurrection; for many of the parallelisms between the Jewish and Christian dispensations were already seen by us, and formed one of the features of the little book above referred to, The Three Worlds.

We did not then see, as we now do,[2] that the date (1878) marked the time for the beginning of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, by the glorification of all who already slept in Christ, and that the “change” which Paul mentions (1 Cor. 15:51) is to occur in the moment of dying, to all the class described, from that date onward through the harvest period, until all the living members (“the feet”) of the body of Christ shall have been changed to glorious spirit beings. But when at that date nothing occurred which we could see, a re-examination of the matter showed me that our mistake lay in expecting to see all the living saints changed at once, and without dying – an erroneous view shared in by the whole nominal church, and one which we had not yet observed or discarded.

Our present clear view was the result of the examination thus started. I soon saw that in the Apostle’s words, “We shall not all sleep,” the word sleep was not synonymous with die, though generally so understood; that, on the contrary, the expression sleep, here used, represents uncon­sciousness; and that the Apostle wished us to understand that from a certain time in the Lord’s presence, His saints, though they would all die like other men (Psa. 82:6,7), would not remain for any time unconscious, but in the moment of dying would be changed and would receive the spirit body promised. Throughout this Gospel Age, dying has been followed by unconsciousness, “sleep.” This continued true of all saints who fell asleep in Jesus up to the time He took the office of King (Rev. 11:17), which we have shown was in 1878.

Not only did the King at that date awaken in His likeness all the members of His body, the Church, who slept, but for the same reason (the time for establishing His Kingdom having come) it is no longer necessary that the “feet” or last remaining members should go into “sleep” or uncon­sciousness. On the contrary, each now, as he finishes his course, faithful unto death, will at once receive the crown of life, and, being changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, cannot be said to sleep, or to be unconscious at all. Here (the year 1878) Rev. 14:13 is applicable, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.”

So this re-examination showed further light upon the pathway and became a good cause for encouragement, as evidencing the Lord’s con­tinued leading.

But while I was thus helped to clearer views and brighter hopes, and while I diligently endeavored to help others, the spring of 1878 proved far from a blessing to Mr. Barbour and to many under his influence. Rejecting the plain, simple solution presented above, Mr. Barbour seemed to feel that he must of necessity get up something new to divert attention from the failure of the living saints to be caught away en masse.

But, alas! How dangerous it is for any man to feel too much responsibility and to attempt to force new light. To our painful surprise, Mr. Barbour soon after wrote an article for The Herald denying the doctrine of the atonement – denying that the death of Christ was the ransom-price of Adam and his race, saying that Christ’s death was no more a settlement of the penalty of man’s sins than would the sticking of a pin through the body of a fly, causing it suffering and death, be considered by an earthly parent as a just settlement for misdemeanor in his child.

I was astonished, supposing that Mr. Barbour had a clearer understanding of the work of Christ as our sin-offering, our willing Redeemer, who gladly, co-operating in the Divine Plan, gave Himself as the ransom or corresponding price to meet the penalty upon Adam, that Adam and all his posterity might in due time go free from sin and death. A totally different thing indeed was the willing, intelligent, loving offering of our Redeemer, according to the plan devised and revealed by infinite wisdom, from the miserable caricature of it offered in the above illustration. I had either given Mr. Barbour credit for clearer views than he ever had, or else he was deliberately taking off and casting away the “wedding garment” of Christ’s righteousness.[3] The latter was the only conclusion left; for he afterward stated that he had previously recognized Christ’s death as man’s ransom-price.

Immediately I wrote an article for The Herald in contradiction of the error, showing the necessity that one die for all – “the just for the unjust” (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:18); that Christ fulfilled all this as it had been written; and that consequently God could be just and forgive and release the sinner from the very penalty He had justly imposed. (Rom. 3:26) I also wrote to Mr. Paton, calling his attention to the fundamental character of the doctrine assailed, and pointing out how the time and circumstances all corresponded with the parable of the one who took off the wedding garment when just about to partake of the wedding feast. (Matt. 22:11-14)

He replied that he had not seen the Ransom feature in so strong a light before; that Mr. Barbour had a strong, dogmatic way of putting things which had for the time overbalanced him. I urged that, seeing now the importance of the doctrine, he also write an article for The Herald, which, in no uncertain tone, would give his witness also for the precious blood of Christ. This he did.

It now became clear to me that the Lord would no longer have me assist financially, or to be in any way identified with, anything which cast any influence in opposition to the fundamental principle of our holy Christian religion; and I therefore, after a most careful though unavailing effort to reclaim the erring, withdrew entirely from The Herald of the Morning and from further fellowship with Mr. Barbour. But a mere withdrawal I felt was not sufficient to show my continued loyalty to our Lord and Redeemer, whose cause had thus been violently assailed by one in position to lead the sheep astray – and in that position, too, very largely by my individual assistance and encouragement when I believed him to be, in all sincerity, true to the Lord. I therefore understood it to be the Lord’s will that I should start another journal in which the standard of the cross should be lifted high, the doctrine of the Ransom defended, and the good tidings of great joy proclaimed as extensively as possible.

Acting upon this leading of the Lord, I gave up traveling, and in July, 1879 the first number of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence made its appearance. From the first, it has been a special advocate of the “ransom for all,” and by the grace of God we hope this it will ever be.

(Excerpts from Reprint 3820, with minor editing. To be continued in our October 2016 paper.)



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[1] See Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, Chapter 5.

[2] See Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. III, Chapter 7.

[3] For a discussion of the parable of the wedding garment, see Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. III, page 197.