THE disciples of the Great Teacher were puzzled. Jesus had just related a brief story about wheat and weeds. It was one of a number of parables that he spoke that day. When he was finished, most in his audience left. But his followers knew that there must be a particular meaning to his parables—especially the one about the wheat and the weeds. They knew that Jesus was not just an interesting storyteller.
Matthew reports that they asked: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” In response, Jesus interpreted the parable, foretelling a great apostasy that would develop among his professed disciples. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-38, 43) This did occur, and apostasy spread quickly after the death of the apostle John. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12) Its effects were so pervasive that the question Jesus posed, as recorded at Luke 18:8, seemed very appropriate: “When the Son of Man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?”
Jesus’ arrival would mark the beginning of “the harvest” of wheatlike Christians. That would be a mark of the ‘conclusion of the system of things,’ which began in 1914. So it should not surprise us that there were stirrings of interest in Bible truth in the period leading up to the onset of the harvest.—Matthew 13:39.
An examination of the historical record makes it evident that especially from the 15th century onward, minds were being stirred, even among the masses in Christendom who were like the “weeds,” or imitation Christians. As the Bible became freely available and Bible concordances were prepared, honesthearted individuals started searching the Scriptures carefully.
The Light Brightens
Among such men at the turn of the 19th century was Henry Grew (1781-1862), from Birmingham, England. At the age of 13, he sailed with his family across the Atlantic to the United States, arriving on July 8, 1795. They settled in Providence, Rhode Island. His parents instilled in him a love for the Bible. In 1807, at age 25, Grew was invited to serve as pastor of the Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut.
He took his teaching responsibilities seriously and tried to assist those in his care to live in harmony with the Scriptures. However, he believed in keeping the congregation clean from any person who willingly practiced sin. At times, he, along with other responsible men in the church, had to expel (disfellowship) those who committed fornication or engaged in other unclean practices.
There were other problems in the church that disturbed him. They had men who were not church members handling the business affairs of the church and leading the singing at the services. These men could also vote on matters of concern to the congregation and thereby have some control of its affairs. Based on the principle of separateness from the world, Grew very strongly believed that only faithful men should perform these functions. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; James 1:27) In his view, to have unbelievers sing songs of praise to God was blasphemy. Because of this stand, in 1811, Henry Grew was rejected by the church. Other members with like views separated from the church at the same time.
Separating From Christendom
This group, including Henry Grew, started a study of the Bible with the aim of conforming their lives and activities to its counsel. Their studies rapidly led them to a greater understanding of Bible truth and caused them to expose the errors of Christendom. For example, in 1824, Grew wrote a well-reasoned refutation of the Trinity. Note the logic in this passage from his writings: “‘Of that day, and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the FATHER.’ [Mark 13:32] Observe here the gradation in the scale of being. Man, Angels, Son, Father. . . . Our Lord teaches us that the Father only knew of that day. But this is not true, if, as some suppose, the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are three persons in one God; for, according to this [teaching, the Trinity doctrine,] the . . . Son knew it equally with the Father.”
Grew exposed the hypocrisy of clergymen and military commanders who made a pretense of service to Christ. In 1828 he declared: “Can we conceive of a greater incongruity, than for a Christian to go from his closet, where he has been praying for his enemies, and command his troops to plunge the weapons of death with fiend like fury, into the hearts of those very enemies? In the one case, he happily resembles his dying Master; but whom does he resemble in the other? Jesus prayed for his murderers. Christians murder those for whom they pray.”
Even more forcefully, Grew wrote: “When shall we believe the Almighty who assures us that he is ‘not mocked?’ When shall we understand the nature, the genius, of that holy religion which requires us to abstain from even the ‘appearance of evil?’ . . . Is it not a libel on the Son of the blessed, to suppose that his religion requires a man to act like an angel in one relation, and allows him to act like a demon in another?”
Eternal Life Not Inherent
During those years before radio and television, a popular way to express one’s viewpoint was to write and distribute pamphlets. About 1835, Grew penned an important pamphlet that exposed the teachings of the immortality of the soul and hellfire as unscriptural. He felt that these doctrines blasphemed God.
This pamphlet was to have far-reaching effects. In 1837, 40-year-old George Storrs found a copy on a train. Storrs was a native of Lebanon, New Hampshire, residing by this time in Utica, New York.
He was a highly respected minister in the Methodist-Episcopal Church. Upon reading the pamphlet, he was impressed that such a strong argument could be made against these basic teachings of Christendom, which he had never before doubted. He did not know who the author was, and it was not until some years later, at least by 1844, that he met Henry Grew while both were residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, Storrs studied the matter on his own for three years, speaking only with other ministers about it.
Finally, since no one could refute the things he was learning, George Storrs decided that he could not be faithful to God if he remained in the Methodist Church. He resigned in 1840 and moved to Albany, New York.
In the early spring of 1842, Storrs gave a series of six lectures in six weeks on the subject “An Inquiry—Are the Wicked Immortal?” The interest was so great that he revised it for publication, and over the next 40 years, it reached a circulation of 200,000 in the United States and Great Britain. Storrs and Grew collaborated in debates against the immortal soul doctrine. Grew continued zealously preaching until his death on August 8, 1862, in Philadelphia.
Shortly after Storrs presented the six lectures just mentioned, he became interested in the preaching of William Miller, who was expecting the visible return of Christ in 1843. For about two years, Storrs was actively involved in preaching this message throughout the northeastern United States. After 1844, he would no longer go along with setting any date for Christ’s return, yet he did not object if others wanted to investigate chronology. Storrs believed that Christ’s return was near and that it was important for Christians to keep awake and spiritually alert, ready for the day of inspection. But he parted company with Miller’s group because they accepted unscriptural doctrines, such as the immortality of the soul, the burning of the world, and the absence of any hope for everlasting life for those who die in ignorance.
To What Would the Love of God Lead?
Storrs was repelled by the Adventist view that God would resurrect wicked people for the sole purpose of putting them to death again. He could see no evidence in the Scriptures for such a pointless and vengeful act on God’s part. Storrs and his associates went to the other extreme and concluded that the wicked would not be resurrected at all. Though they had difficulty explaining certain scriptures that referred to the resurrection of the unrighteous, their conclusion seemed to them to be more in harmony with God’s love. A further step in the understanding of God’s purpose was soon to come.
In 1870, Storrs became very sick and could not work for some months. During this time, he was able to reexamine all that he had learned throughout his 74 years. He concluded that he had missed a vital part of God’s purpose toward mankind as indicated in the Abrahamic covenant—that ‘all the families of the earth would bless themselves because Abraham listened to God’s voice.’—Genesis 22:18; Acts 3:25.
This brought a new thought to his mind. If “all the families” were to be blessed, would not all have to hear the good news? How would they hear it? Were not millions upon millions already dead? On further examination of the Scriptures, he came to the conclusion that there were two classes of dead “wicked” individuals: those who had conclusively rejected the love of God and those who had died in ignorance.
The latter, Storrs concluded, would have to be raised from the dead to give them a chance to benefit from the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Those who accepted it would live forever on earth. Those who rejected it would be destroyed. Yes, Storrs believed that no one would be raised by God without having hope before him. Eventually, no one would be dead for the sin of Adam except Adam! But what about those living during the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? Storrs finally came to see that a global preaching campaign would have to be undertaken to reach them. He had not the slightest idea how such a thing could be done, but in faith he wrote: “Yet too many, if they cannot see just how a thing is to be done reject it, as if it were impossible for God to do it because they cannot see the process.”
George Storrs died in December 1879, at his home in Brooklyn, New York, just a few blocks from what would later become the focal point of the global preaching campaign that he had so eagerly anticipated.
Further Light Needed
Did such men as Henry Grew and George Storrs understand the truth as clearly as we do today? No. They were aware of their struggle, as Storrs stated in 1847: “We should do well to remember that we have but just emerged from the dark ages of the church; and it would not be at all strange if we should find some ‘Babylonish garments’ still worn by us for truth.” Grew, for example, appreciated the ransom provided by Jesus, but he did not understand that it was a “corresponding ransom,” that is, the perfect human life of Jesus given in exchange for the lost perfect human life of Adam. (1 Timothy 2:6) Henry Grew also erroneously believed that Jesus would return and rule visibly on earth. However, Grew did have concern for the sanctification of Jehovah’s name, a subject that had been of interest to very few people since the second century C.E.
George Storrs likewise did not have a correct understanding of some important points. He was able to see falsehoods promoted by the clergy, but sometimes he went to the opposite extreme. For example, apparently overreacting to the orthodox clergy’s view of Satan, Storrs rejected the idea of the Devil as an actual person. He rejected the Trinity; yet, he was uncertain until shortly before his death as to whether the holy spirit was a person. While George Storrs expected that Christ’s return would originally be invisible, he thought that eventually there would be a visible appearing. Nonetheless, it seems that both men were honesthearted and sincere, and they came far closer to the truth than most.
The “field” that Jesus described in the parable of the wheat and the weeds was not quite ready to be harvested. (Matthew 13:38) Grew, Storrs, and others were working in the “field” in preparation for the harvest.
Charles Taze Russell, who started publishing this magazine in 1879, wrote concerning his early years: “The Lord gave us many helps in the study of His word, among whom stood prominently, our dearly beloved and aged brother, George Storrs, who, both by word and pen gave us much assistance; but we ever sought not to be followers of men, however good and wise, but ‘Followers of God as dear children.’” Yes, sincere Bible students could benefit from the efforts of men like Grew and Storrs, but it still was vital to examine God’s Word, the Bible, as the real source of the truth.—John 17:17. - October 15, 2000 Watchtower, WTB&TS
Additional Reading: AN APPEAL TO PIOUS TRINITARIANS http://www.harvestherald.com/_pfv/appeal_pfv.html
Additional note: By the 16th century, antitrinitarian movements were strong in Europe. For example, Ferenc Dávid (1510-79), a Hungarian, knew and taught that the dogma of the Trinity was not Scriptural. Because of his beliefs, he died in prison. (2) The Minor Reformed Church, which flourished in Poland for about a hundred years during the 16th and 17th centuries, also rejected the Trinity, and adherents of that church spread literature all over Europe, until the Jesuits succeeded in having them banished from Poland. (3) Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in England, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and wrote detailed historical and Scriptural reasons for doing so, but he did not have these published during his lifetime, evidently out of fear of the consequences. (4) Among others in America, Henry Grew exposed the Trinity as unscriptural. In 1824 he dealt with this matter at length in An Examination of the Divine Testimony Concerning the Character of the Son of God. - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 125 (footnote), WTB&TS
Influence of Others
Russell referred quite openly to the assistance in Bible study he had received from others. Not only did he acknowledge his indebtedness to Second Adventist Jonas Wendell but he also spoke with affection about two other individuals who had aided him in Bible study. Russell said of these two men: “The study of the Word of God with these dear brethren led, step by step, into greener pastures.” One, George W. Stetson, was an earnest student of the Bible and pastor of the Advent Christian Church in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
The other, George Storrs, was publisher of the magazine Bible Examiner, in Brooklyn, New York. Storrs, who was born on December 13, 1796, was initially stimulated to examine what the Bible says about the condition of the dead as a result of reading something published (though at the time anonymously) by a careful student of the Bible, Henry Grew, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Storrs became a zealous advocate of what was called conditional immortality—the teaching that the soul is mortal and that immortality is a gift to be attained by faithful Christians. He also reasoned that since the wicked do not have immortality, there is no eternal torment. Storrs traveled extensively, lecturing on the subject of no immortality for the wicked. Among his published works was the Six Sermons, which eventually attained a distribution of 200,000 copies. Without a doubt, Storrs’ strong Bible-based views on the mortality of the soul as well as the atonement and restitution (restoration of what was lost due to Adamic sin; Acts 3:21) had a strong, positive influence on young Charles T. Russell.
Yet, another man who had a profound effect on Russell’s life also caused his loyalty to Scriptural truth to be put to the test.
Time Prophecies and the Presence of the Lord
One morning in January 1876, 23-year-old Russell received a copy of a religious periodical called Herald of the Morning. From the picture on the cover, he could see that it was identified with Adventism. The editor, Nelson H. Barbour, of Rochester, New York, believed that the object of Christ’s return was not to destroy the families of the earth but to bless them and that his coming would be not in the flesh but as a spirit. Why, this was in agreement with what Russell and his associates in Allegheny had believed for some time! Curiously, though, Barbour believed from Biblical time-prophecies that Christ was already present (invisibly) and that the harvest work of gathering “the wheat” (true Christians making up the Kingdom class) was already due.—Matt., chap. 13.
Russell had shied away from Biblical time prophecies. Now, however, he wondered: “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?” With his insatiable thirst for Scriptural truth, Russell had to learn more. So he arranged to meet with Barbour in Philadelphia. This meeting confirmed their agreement on a number of Bible teachings and provided an opportunity for them to exchange views. “When we first met,” Russell later stated, “he had much to learn from me on the fulness of restitution based upon the sufficiency of the ransom given for all, as I had much to learn from him concerning time.” Barbour succeeded in convincing Russell that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874.
“Resolved Upon a Vigorous Campaign for the Truth”
C. T. Russell was a man of positive convictions. Convinced that Christ’s invisible presence had begun, he was determined to proclaim it to others. He later said: “The knowledge of the fact that we were already in the harvest period gave to me an impetus to spread the Truth such as I never had before. I therefore at once resolved upon a vigorous campaign for the Truth.” Russell now decided to curtail his business interests so as to devote himself to preaching.
To counteract wrong views regarding the Lord’s return, Russell wrote the pamphlet The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return. It was published in 1877. That same year Barbour and Russell jointly published Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World. This 196-page book discussed the subjects of restitution and Biblical time prophecies. Though each subject had been treated by others before, in Russell’s view this book was “the first to combine the idea of restitution with time-prophecy.” It presented the view that Jesus Christ’s invisible presence dated from the autumn of 1874.
As Russell traveled and preached, it became evident to him that something more was needed to keep the seeds of truth he was sowing alive and watered. The answer? “A monthly journal,” said Russell. So he and Barbour decided to revive publication of the Herald, which had been suspended because of canceled subscriptions and exhausted funds. Russell contributed his own funds to revive the journal, becoming one of its coeditors.
All went well for a while—until 1878, that is.
Russell Breaks With Barbour
In the August 1878 issue of Herald of the Morning, there appeared an article by Barbour that denied the substitutionary value of Christ’s death. Russell, who was nearly 30 years younger than Barbour, could see that this was, in fact, denying the essential part of the ransom doctrine. So in the very next issue (September 1878), Russell, in an article entitled “The Atonement,” upheld the ransom and contradicted Barbour’s statements. The controversy continued in the pages of the journal for the next few months. Finally, Russell decided to withdraw from fellowship with Mr. Barbour and discontinued further financial support to the Herald.
C. T. Russell, though, felt that to withdraw from the Herald was not enough; the ransom doctrine must be defended and Christ’s presence must be proclaimed. Hence, in July 1879, Russell began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Russell was the editor and publisher, with five others originally listed as contributors to its columns. The first issue had a printing of 6,000 copies. By 1914 the printing of each issue was about 50,000 copies.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, 1993, WTB&TS