“He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” (Jer. 23:28)
It has long been our custom to pay tribute to Pastor Russell at this time of year. We do not do this with the idea of man-worship nor do we wish to exaggerate his talent and character. Pastor Russell himself did not want homage or reverence for himself or his writings. He did not want to be called Reverend or Rabbi, nor did he want any followers to call themselves by his name, insisting that the name of He who died for all – the name Christian – is sufficient to designate the followers of Christ. He urged each reader of his writings to study what he presented in the light of the Scriptures and to “prove all things.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
Although little is known about him today (what little is published about him is mostly incorrect), Pastor Russell and his writings were widely known during his lifetime and they aroused almost universal opposition from all branches of nominal Christianity. As most of our readers know, it was the doctrine of eternal torment that led Pastor Russell to question his own faith at a very young age. He believed that the Bible taught this doctrine and, recognizing it to be inconsistent with the character of a loving God, he almost rejected the Bible altogether because of it. When he finally decided to put aside what he had been taught from a child and study the Bible on his own, he found that God was indeed a God of Love, Wisdom, Justice and Power.
An attack on Pastor Russell appeared in the San Francisco Monitor, a Catholic publication in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Monitor challenged Pastor Russell’s authority to repudiate the doctrine of eternal torment. Sadly, this doctrine is still an official doctrine of most denominations today, both Catholic and Protestant, causing many people to reject not only the particular church or denomination, but the Bible itself. Nominal Christendom also still believes that only its religious leaders have doctrinal authority. For these reasons, we should make sure we are prepared to refute “doctrines of devils” and the “tradition of men.” (1 Tim. 4:1; Mark 7:8; Col. 2:8)
Pastor Russell’s response to the Monitor’s attack was published in the Overland Monthly and is presented below.
Amongst my warm friends the world over are many most zealous Catholics and Protestants, and others of no earthly church affiliation. I strive to offend none, but to serve my God, His Truth and all who are truly His people. The Monitor (San Francisco), exercising its proper liberty, has sought to counteract the influence of my presentations on “What Say the Scriptures Respecting the Hereafter.” No doubt the Monitor’s editor is conscientious, and many of its readers as well, and no doubt they will all accredit me with similar honesty. The subject, approached from this standpoint of respect for each other’s beliefs, is bound to do good – to stimulate thought. Figuratively, God is Light; in Him is no darkness. In proportion as we turn on the true light of His Word and order our minds and conduct in harmony therewith, we shall be blessed. The turning on of the light can never damage the Truth – only the darkness suffers and flees.
In its opening paragraph the Monitor introduces its side of the discussion by asking me the same question that the scribes and Pharisees of old asked of Jesus: “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matt. 21:23) We quote as follows:
“As the Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle speaks with a show of authority, and asserts that the belief of Christians in general about eternal punishment is all wrong, we would politely ask him for his credentials and his documents. In whose name do you teach, Pastor Russell? Who sent you? Who made you the interpreter of God’s Word? When was it said to you, mediately or immediately by Christ, ‘Go teach?’ Or when was given you the assurance, ‘I am with you alway, even to the consummation of the world?’ Can you trace back your pedigree in unbroken line to the Apostles? Where are your letters patent? Where are your documents? The burden of the proof, you know, lies on the accuser. You have accused Christians in general of being wrong on the point of everlasting punishment. Give us a real argument to sustain your accusation. Your teaching would be, O, so soothing to the sinner, Pastor Russell, were it only true. But it is not true, Pastor Russell.”
PASTOR RUSSELL ANSWERS THE QUESTIONS
All authority to speak in the name of God must come from Him, and He says, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” (Jer. 23:28) This statement is made by way of showing that many are teaching and preaching their own dreams, imaginings, or the dreams of their forefathers, in neglect of the Word of God – the Holy Scriptures. Jesus charged the religious rulers of His day, saying, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matt. 15:6,8,9) – teaching as commandments of God what are really the traditions of men. Similarly, I claim that both Catholics and Protestants, with good intentions, have gradually left the Word of God – the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the Prophets – and that, commingled with certain truths, they are now teaching traditions of the “Dark Ages” violently antagonistic to the teachings of the Bible.
The questions touching my authority, my right, to interpret the Bible and to speak in the name of the Lord are so nearly the same questions which the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees asked of Jesus and the Apostles, that I may without impropriety, I hope, follow the same line of answer which they gave. The authority of our Lord Jesus, standing amongst those ecclesiastics of the Jewish Age, consisted in the fact that He had received the anointing of the Holy Spirit at the time of His baptism. In consequence, “the heavens were opened unto him” – the higher things, the heavenly things, were clear to Him. (Matt. 3:16)
This was the secret of His teaching power, because of which we read, “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22); “For he taught them as one having authority [as One knowing what He was talking about], and not as the scribes” – the Doctors of the Law. (Matt. 7:29) In a word, our Redeemer’s ability to teach came to Him through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But so far as the public were concerned, they knew not of this; His right to teach consisted in the fact that He could teach – that He could make plain the Word of God, so that the common people heard Him gladly and said, “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:46)
Similarly the Apostles were commanded not to teach and told that they had no authority to teach – that all the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees condemned the Message they bore. But their answer was: Whether it be right to obey God or to obey man may be a question in your minds, but as for us, we cannot refrain from speaking the things which we have seen and heard and know. (Acts 4:19-20)
We have seen that Jesus obtained Divine sanction and authority to speak in the Heavenly Father’s name when He received the Holy Spirit. We note the same thing respecting the Apostles. Jesus told them not to preach the Gospel Message until they should be endued with power from on High. He bade them wait at Jerusalem for the Divine benediction of the Holy Spirit. This anointing or authority to preach came to them at Pentecost – and thenceforth they preached and taught, not human traditions, but the Word of God, the Holy Spirit enlightening them as to the proper interpretation of its symbols and prophecies.
Nothing in the Bible sanctions the view held by our Catholic brethren, to the effect that apostolic authority and power have been handed down through the Bishops of the Catholic Church or any other. On the contrary, the Bible repeatedly speaks of “the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” – St. Paul taking the place of Judas. This is pictured also by the Master Himself. He symbolically represents the true Church as a woman clothed with the Sun – the light of Divine favor and Truth and grace – and on her head was a crown of twelve stars, representing the twelve Apostles – no more. (Rev. 12:1) The Lord pictures His Church in her future glory – at the close of this Gospel Age – when she will be complete and experience the First Resurrection and become God’s holy Kingdom, the Messianic Kingdom. The picture is that of the New Jerusalem, whose dominion is to bring Divine blessing and uplifting to all the families of the earth. The New Jerusalem is declared to be a symbolical picture of the elect, saintly Church after her marriage with the Lord at His second coming. That symbolical City is represented as having twelve glorious foundation stones – and no more – and in those twelve foundation stones were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb – and no more. (Rev. 21:14)
It is thus seen that the authority to teach possessed by our Lord and by His twelve Apostles has not descended to any others by human ordination. Of these twelve alone it is true that whatsoever they declared was binding in the sight of heaven, would be binding; and whatsoever they declared to be loosed, or not binding, would be so from the Divine standpoint. We are thus assured of the infallibility of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. (Matt. 18:18)
But the Apostle Paul declares that although all are not Apostles, all are not Prophets, yet there are teachers, ministers, servants, in the Church, placed there, not by apostolic power, not by apostolic laying on of hands; he says, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him”– including teachers, evangelists and prophets or orators. (1 Cor. 12:18) But could these teach without an anointing somewhat similar to that received by Jesus at His baptism and by the Apostles at Pentecost? No; God’s seal or mark which He places upon those whom He appoints to be special teachers is the same Holy Spirit.
St. John tells us of this, saying, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things [you all know it]” – that is, whoever has the unction or anointing of the Holy Spirit of God is aware of the fact (1 John 2:20), and this unction or anointing of the Holy Spirit gives more or less ability to understand the deep things of God – in proportion to the measure of the Holy Spirit received and in proportion also to the natural talents of the person thus blessed. Every one thus anointed is commissioned or authorized to speak as a mouthpiece of the Lord in proportion to his talents and opportunities and privileges. He may speak only what he may understand, and not speak of himself nor expound the theories of others, but merely God’s Word, the utterances of Jesus, the Apostles and the Prophets.
We may thus see who have the right and ability to teach God’s Word. Sects and systems, Catholic and Protestant, claim this right, but without Scriptural authority. The Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and other ecclesiastical systems each claim the right (the Divine right) to set apart, to authorize, to qualify, to empower, teachers of the Divine Word, mouthpieces and oracles of God. But none of them can show any scriptural authority. Their strongest claim is custom; but the very oldest wrong custom and misconception is without weight and without force when investigated. How many of the clergy of all denominations demonstrate that whatever came to them at their ordination has done them no good, but rather harm, in connection with ability to expound the Word of God! The attitude of all is described by the Lord and the Prophets. (Isa. 29:11-14)
On the contrary, let us note the beautiful simplicity of the Divine ordination through the baptism of the Holy Spirit: St. Peter declares, in harmony with all the Apostles, that it is not a clerical class which constitutes the Church of Christ, but a saintly class. And all those saintly ones are Spirit-begotten, Spirit-anointed. They all, therefore, have the authority to preach and to teach as messengers from God to the extent of their opportunities. St. Peter, addressing all saints regardless of sectarian lines and names, regardless of sects, and ignoring any clergy class, says to the Spirit-begotten children of God, “Ye are . . . a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) The introduction of his Epistle shows that these words are addressed to the saints in general and not to the clergy, for he recognized no clerical orders, but, like the Master, said, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” (Matt: 23:8)
The Church of Christ is pictured as a human Body of which Christ is the Head. This Body as a whole, from Pentecost until the end of the Age, has the supervision of the Head. Although absent from us in person, He is present with His people by His Spirit and power. This relationship between Christ and the Church was typified in Aaron, the Jewish high priest. The anointing of Aaron to his office typified the anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and the bringing of all the members of His Body under the influence of that same anointing – the Holy Spirit. Thus the Psalmist pictures the anointing of the Church, as symbolized in Aaron; as upon Aaron’s head the oil was poured which ran down his beard and even unto the skirts of his garments, and as this constituted him the anointed priest of the Lord, so the Holy Spirit upon our Lord, the Apostles and their saintly footstep followers constitute these the Lord’s representative members and mouthpieces of Jehovah. Thus it is written prophetically of the Christ, Head and Body, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Isa. 61:1)
Claiming this Divine authority to expound God’s Word to the extent of my ability, let me proceed; for I am one of those specially mentioned in His prayer saying, “Neither pray I for these [the Apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” (John 17:20)
THE BURDEN OF PROOF
The Monitor claims that the burden of furnishing proof that there is no purgatory, no eternal torture, rests upon me. This is strange! If the Monitor or anybody else had ever been to purgatory or eternal torment and could, therefore, testify to their claims as a matter of knowledge, those disputing their statements would not even then be called upon for proofs that there are no such places. It would still remain for those claiming to have seen purgatory and hell and to have suffered there to give proofs of what they had seen and experienced. We are not accusing Christians, Catholic or Protestant, with being intentionally wrong. They are doubtless as honest as we were when we believed and taught the same heathenish doctrines, which St. Paul styles “doctrines of devils.” (1 Tim. 4:1) We are merely urging that all Christians, Catholic and Protestant, awake from the stupor of the dark past and go back to the simple and beautiful teachings of the Savior and His inspired twelve. We urge them to do this before they fall into the great gulf of modern infidelity which is rapidly swallowing up all the intelligent people of the world under the name of Higher Criticism, Evolution, Theosophy, New Theology, etc. The Bible is being discarded because it is misunderstood – because it is supposed to be in accord with and the real foundation for the horrible misconceptions of the Divine Character and the Divine Plan most thoroughly believed by our forefathers for centuries past.
THE MONITOR’S PROOFS
The Monitor proceeds to give proofs (?) of a hell of fire and torture, but it says not a word respecting purgatory – the very place which it, as a Catholic mouthpiece, claims will receive the great mass of humanity for roasting, sizzling and freezing its saints. Why this oversight? Ah! We think now! It may have been because the Monitor knows that nobody knows anything more about purgatory than does itself, which is – nothing. It knows that there is not a word of Scripture teaching that there is such a place as purgatory. It knows that it is merely human tradition concocted long after the death of the inspired Apostles – tending greatly to make void the Word of God.
Since the Monitor ignores purgatory we must assume that it takes the Protestant view of hell as being the only alternative – the eternal-torturous abode of nearly all of Adam’s posterity. We protest that the fiction of purgatory has helped to make the Catholic view of the future a little more rational, saner, than the Protestant view. Neither view is tolerable in our estimation. Both suggestions are travesties upon Divine Justice calculated to repel every reasonable mind, every lover of justice, every person of heart or sympathy. Endorsing literal fire and everlasting torture, here are the Monitor’s words:
“And with your leave, I now shall tell there is, and why there is, a hell.
“The gentlest heart that ever beat, the kindest lips that ever spoke, have clearly told us for our warning that there is a place where those who will not glorify God’s mercy here and hereafter shall glorify His justice by the double pain of loss and sense forever.”
With these words, the editor produces his weighty arguments and his proof that Jesus taught such a hell:
1. St. Luke 16:19-31 – the account of the “Rich Man and Lazarus.”
2. St. Matthew 25:31-46 – the parable of the “Sheep and the Goats.”
3. St. Mark 9:42-48 – the Master’s words respecting the cutting off of a displeasing hand or of a foot, rather than be cast into hell fire, where their worm dieth not and the fire is never quenched.
The Monitor then says:
“That these and similar passages of Scripture touching the existence of hell and its two-fold everlasting pain of loss and sense are to be taken literally, there can be no doubt. For it is a rule of criticism, and of Biblical criticism in particular, always to take words in their literal meaning unless there is a good reason for doing otherwise. Now, there is no such reason in the present case. The only reason with any show of force about it that might be advanced is the difficulty of understanding with absolute clearness and certainty how material fire acts on immaterial or spiritual being like the angelic nature or the human soul.”
We agree with the Monitor and all sensible people in the above statement, and we want to point to some reasons why this method of interpretation overthrows the Monitor’s contention that these Scriptures are to be taken literally – as teaching that all except followers of Christ will suffer tortures everlastingly. We are not claiming that sinners will escape a just penalty for sin. We are claiming that eternal torture or purgatorial tortures for sinners would not be just, rational, sane punishments, but, on the contrary, would exemplify a brutality and devilishness which has no parallel in the most degraded of our fallen race.
JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES
The Apostle records, as the Prophets had foretold, that Jesus opened His mouth in parables and in dark sayings and “without a parable spake he not” unto the people. (Matt. 13:34,35; Psa. 78:2) We have taken the words of Jesus literally when their very form should have shown us that they could not have been meant literally. Do we not use figures of speech today? For instance, if in conversation someone said to us, “When John Smith heard that, he burst into tears,” would we understand literally that John Smith burst and became a shower of tears? A certain judge, addressing a woman who spoke of her husband’s ill-treatment, asked her if she had tried the Apostle’s remedy of heaping coals of fire on his head. She replied, “No,” but that she had tried hot water without avail.
Thus an ignorant person might perhaps misunderstand the Apostle’s figurative language. But is that an excuse for us, who claim to be more intelligent, to misunderstand it? Do we not remember St. Peter’s words, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you?” (1 Pet. 4:12) Who is foolish enough to suppose that St. Peter meant literal fire? Hear the Apostle Paul telling about the trials of faith to be expected in the end of this Age: He says, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest . . . the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Those who have built with “gold, silver, precious stones” will have their work approved. Those who have filled their ears with false doctrine – “wood, hay, stubble” – will find their work disapproved. The fire of that day will consume it. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)
St. Paul tells us that some will pass through that fire unscathed, and others will have their work destroyed, but will themselves be saved so as by fire. His intention clearly is that this Age will end with a great time of sifting along doctrinal lines. The false doctrines represented by wood, hay and stubble, are now taking fire and will be entirely consumed, whereas all the truths of God’s Word symbolically represented by the Apostle as jewels of gold and silver and precious stones – these will stand the test and abide. Let us build our faith, then, with the proper materials which God’s Word supplies. And let us remember the Apostle’s words, to the effect that the Word of God is sufficient that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) And the implication of this is that the decisions of the councils of the “dark ages” are not only unnecessary for God’s people of today, but are injurious in proportion as they are out of alignment with the words of Jesus and the Apostles.
Let us examine the proof texts now in turn:
1. THE RICH MAN IN HELL – Luke 16:19-31
Many of us in the past, like the Monitor, have viewed this as a literal account without noting the absurdity of so doing. According to the account, that rich man went to hell because he was rich, had plenty to eat every day, lived in a good house, wore some purple clothing and some fine linen. Not a word is said about his being profane or wicked. If these be grounds for going to eternal torment we should all begin to discard all purple-colored garments, to wear no fine linen, to fast and generally to get poor. Evidently the majority of people have not this view of matters, but are living as nearly like that rich man as they know how. Does such an interpretation seem rational? Or should we seek an interpretation that would not take these statements so literally as they read and as the Monitor advocates?
Look at the other side of the parable – the poor beggar, foul, ulcerated, hungry, licked by dogs, was carried to Abraham’s bosom – not a word about his saint-ship or any other qualification. Do the editors or any of the employees of the Monitor office hope ever to get to the future heavenly bliss, and are they striving to be just like that beggar in all particulars? And if they should reach Abraham’s bosom, might it not be that the old gentleman’s arms would be full of beggars after eighteen hundred years? This is the literal interpretation of our Lord’s words which the Monitor advocates as so reasonable as not to require interpretation symbolically. Well, the Monitor has its right to its opinion, and it may be that we are obtuse. For the sake of other obtuse people, we will proceed to give an interpretation of our Lord’s words as we believe they were meant to be understood – as a parable:
The rich man represents the Jewish nation. His favor with God is represented as riches. The rich man’s bountiful table represents the Divine promises given, up to that time, exclusively to the Jew. Thus St. Paul interprets the Jewish “table” of blessing in Romans 11:9. The rich man’s purple represents the royalty which belonged to the Jews under the Divine promise that Messiah’s Kingdom should be established through the Seed of King David. The rich man’s fine linen symbolizes righteousness or justification imputed to the Jewish nation year by year through their atonement- sacrifices.
The beggar at the rich man’s gate represents the reverent and devout of the Gentiles and the outcasts of the Jews who hungered and thirsted for a share in the Divine promises given to the Jews. They got only occasionally crumbs of comfort. The beggar’s sores and nakedness represent his unworthy condition – sin-sick. The dogs, his companions, represent fellow-Gentiles; for all Gentiles were styled “dogs” by the Jews. As samples of the “crumbs” which fell from the rich man’s table we note the healing of the centurion’s servant and the healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. To the latter, when first she asked, Jesus said: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.” The woman recognized the metaphor immediately – the Jew occupied a place of favor represented by children. She, as a Gentile, was in disfavor as a Gentile dog. Her reply was: “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Jesus rewarded her faith by giving her a crumb of favor, the healing of her daughter. (Mark 7:25-30)
If, now, we have located the rich man and the beggar of this parable, let us see how they died and what was accomplished for them:
The poor man represents a class who died to their estrangement from God and His promises and favors (that is, their estrangement ended). This occurred three and a half years after the cross when Cornelius the Centurion, the first Gentile received into the Church, received his blessing, and when the door of opportunity opened before all honest and sincere Gentiles just as widely as to the Jew. There “the middle wall of partition” was broken down. (Eph. 2:14) The humble and faithful, hungering and thirsting, were carried by the angels, the ministers of God, not literally to Abraham’s bosom, but to that which the expression symbolizes. Abraham is styled the father of the faithful. (Rom. 4:11) All the faithful in Christ Jesus are recognized as Abraham’s children, and as such are received figuratively to his bosom. Thus the Apostle writes to the Gentiles: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:12,13) They have become children of God through faith – the children of Abraham, who typified the Heavenly Father, even as Isaac typified the Redeemer. See Galatians 3:29.
From What Pastor Russell Wrote for the Overland Monthly, pages 158-164 with minor editing.
To be continued in our October 2017 paper.