Rough draft Chapter 5A. Cite as B. W. Schulz and R. M. de Vienne: Development of Eccesia Among Readers of Zion's Watch Tower: 1879-1887, as retrieved from TruthHistory.Blogspot.com on [insert date]
5. In All the Earth
The United Kingdom was the target of the first concentrated missionary activity by Zion’s Watch Tower. It is impossible to gage interest in Britain before the publication of Food for Thinking Christians. Previous to its publication the only letters appearing in Zion’s’ Watch Tower were doctrinal, and few names and few or no locations were noted.
There had been some notice of the work in The Rainbow. A British clergyman, Elias H. Tucket had been a Barbourite and written two articles for Rainbow. There may have been some residual interest from that. Later the magazine reviewed The Three Words, though somewhat negatively. If that book saw any circulation in Britain, it was very small. There is also come indication that Paton mailed material to his relatives in Scotland, but this seems to have born almost no fruitage.
Russell asked John Corbin Sunderlin and J. J. Bender to travel to the United Kingdom to publish Food for Thinking Christians and to direct a massive circulation campaign. Sunderlin had prior experience as an itinerate photographer and may have been chosen on that basis. Less is known of J. J. Bender. Historians including Watch Tower writers have never profiled him.
There seem to have been two Pittsburgh residents using the name J. J. Bender. One was Jonathan J. Bender, a Homeopathic Physician. He was Treasurer of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the Cumberland Valley and was a Free Mason.[i] The other J. J. Bender, assuming they aren’t the same individual, was a publisher and book collector. He seems the most likely candidate as Russell’s representative in Britain. This J. J. Bender had published The Standard Class-Book for Sunday-School Teacher’s Minutes in 1871, which was favorably reviewed by The Sunday School Journal that year.[ii] In May 1886, He and a partner purchased The Bookmart, a magazine devoted to book and autograph collecting published in Pittsburgh.[iii]
Sunderlin and Bender were in Britain by July 11, 1881, when Sunderlin registered with Gillig’s American Exchange in London, “a familiar and popular resort with Americans in the English metropolis.”[iv] He would receive their mail and make currency exchanges at Gillig’s.
It appears that the British edition of Food for Thinking Christians saw publication before the American edition of September 1881, but this is uncertain. Sunderlin returned to America probably in late October 1881, suffering from what was called “over-exertion incident to the arrangements for the distribution of ‘Food’ in Great Britain and Ireland.”[v] This left Bender with sole responsibility for completing the work. He sent a report to Russell dated from Edinburgh, Scotland, October 1, 1881:
I write in haste a few words. Arrived in Glasgow on Wednesday, and spent the day in hunting up some party, but could find none. Advertised in paper my wants and left for Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, to extreme north, intending to distribute at each place. I succeeded without delay and returned in the night to Glasgow, having 18 replies to my advertisement. The first I called upon I made a contract with, and came here again to hear from London, but received no letter.
I telegraphed to learn how things were getting along, and enclosed find a favorable reply. So far—
100,000 pamphlets for London,
30,000 pamphlets for Glasgow,
20,000 pamphlets for Edinburgh
10,000 pamphlets for Dundee,
5,000 pamphlets for Aberdeen.
I will now go to Carlisle and New Castle next, which will be distributing on my way down as near right geographically as I can to Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Leeds, etc. Think I can get through all well.
I had time to call on Mr. Robert Young, critical translator of the Bible and author of “Young's Analytical Hebrew and Greek Concordance,” and I asked his opinion of the text in 2 John 7, in regard to the Coming of Christ in the flesh, and he says that there is no doubt about the passage referring only to Christ's first Coming. I mentioned the quibble regarding the Rochester phase of it, and he said: “O no, no, it means only the first Coming.”
Am enjoying good health, of which you may inform any inquiring friends and trust you are enjoying the same. Working in hope that the labor bestowed will fall upon good ground, and produce many fold to the glory of God.[vi]
The advertisements Bender mentions were for people to distribute the booklet. In London nearly five hundred boys were employed as distributors with other cities employing numbers in proportion to their size.[vii]
Before he totally succumbed to exhaustion Sunderlin sent from London some reflections on Christian duty: “Do you say or think: ‘I fear this race will be the ruination of all my worldly prospects?’ Of course it will so far as having any pleasure in them is concerned. You will be a very foolish man to divide your energies now, or thoughts either. … But do you say: ‘Why, there's my reputation right there in the dust.’ Poor fellow! How sorry I am you noticed it; but it's only the reputation you once had. Don't you know that none of those who are noted racers on this course have any reputation? The greatest racer who ever stepped on it ‘made himself of no reputation.’ But do you say: ‘This awful run will be the death of me?’ Yes; of course it will; but you are a poor culprit under sentence of death any way, and if you undertake to save your life you will lose it, but run yourself to death and you'll have a life that is life everlasting, and more -- immortal. Don't be foolish now. Press on.”[viii]
One of the first to take notice of Food for Thinking Christians was the spiritualist journal The Psychological Review. The December 1881, issue contained a mixture of criticism and approval:
An American religious paper, published in Pittsburgh, Pa., rejoicing in the cognomen of “Zion’s Watch Tower,” has recently issued a free supplement in the form of a book of 160 pp., of which I am informed upwards of a quarter of a million copies have been printed for gratuitous distribution. Some of these have found their way to England, and one to myself. … It contains dissertations on various theological and other topics, amongst them Spiritualism, supported in the main by numerous textual quotations from the Bible. Now while desiring to recognize and appreciate the general temperate tone taken by the writer of the book in question, I contend that there is no more delusive and ensnaring source of erroneous and false deductions than the dangerous habit of Bible text quotation. You can prove anything and nothing by it, and the writer under consideration has fallen into this error when treating Modern Spiritualism.
He found certain agreements with Russell’s treatment of Christ’s spiritual body but in the main took exception to his treatment of Spiritualism, writing: “I must join issue when he comes to deal with Spiritualism. The claim put forward is that ‘what is at the present time called Spiritualism, is a counterfeit of the true as taught in the Bible.’” Still, the editor felt that “the general tone of the book is so moderate that I am induced to take up the gauntlet, believing that ignorance of the truer and higher aspects of Spiritualism is the basis of the condemnation, and new light on the subject will not be rejected without effect.”[ix]
Even less welcoming was the reaction of the English clergy. A very bitter and denunciatory comment appeared in the February 1882, issue of The Prophetic New and Israel’s Watchman. Though the article does not name Food for Thinking Christians, it is evident that it is meant. N. S. Godfrey, at one time the Incumbent of Worley, Leeds, and a prolific pamphleteer on the subject of spiritualism, preached a sermon against “a pamphlet which has been very widely distributed amongst the congregations of the various religious denominations in the borough.” He sent a report of his sermon to Prophetic News:
His advice was, and he repeated it, “Burn it.” He had now looked through it and examined it. At first sight it seemed to read fairly well, and to contain many of the views which were known as those of the Plymouth Brethren. But, after careful examination, he had no hesitation in pronouncing it to be the most damnable book he had read in his life. It was Spiritualism in the most refined subtlety of its Satanic character … the teaching of demons or spirits and wicked men and women …. He pointed out the free use of the Scripture and the Satanic perversion of its meaning and application which they found all the way through the book, giving it a colouring of good, although they only need to read half a dozen lines to see how full of mischief it was. …
Having read a number of lengthy extracts from the book, Mr. Godfrey said there was enough mischief in it to require a hundred sermons to dispose of. There was no difficulty about it to those who knew the Word of God. Again, pointing out the subtlety with which it was put together, and the Scriptures quoted, he announced that on an early occasion he proposed to answer the question, How was it that Holy Scripture seemed to have so many meanings?[x]
The October 1882 issue that was sent to over ninety thousand Sunday School teachers and Food for Thinking Christians reached James Leslie, once a fairly influential Toronto resident but then living in Eglinton, Ontario, Canada.[xi] He forwarded the special issue to the editor of The Rainbow in England with the comment:
There seems among the believers in the second coming and reign of Christ upon the earth, a strong tendency to return to what appears to be the simplicity of believers in the Apostolic age. I send you a number of one of their papers published in Pittsburgh, Pa., U.S., giving indication of this, but embracing some views not clearly taught in the Scriptures. They believe that Christ has come in one sense, and that the dead in Christ are being immortalized now. Yet this does not harmonize with the teaching of Paul in this first epistle to the Thessalonians, for to precede those events the “shout, the voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God” will be heard. Such is the zeal of these brethren that they are sending 90,000 of the paper I send you, “Zion’s Watch Tower, and Herald of Christ’s Presence,” to that number of superintendents of Sunday schools in the United States. The same parties have issued and circulated about a million or more of a good-sized pamphlet entitled “Food for Thinking Christians,” on both sides of the Atlantic.[xii]
Still, some of the British clergy did show interest. A letter from a minister in Nottingham appears in the June 1882 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. It contained a request for a dozen copies of Food and a like number of Tabernacle Teachings. “Eternity alone will reveal the good these books are doing,” the clergyman wrote, “and several of my friends here are hungering for more information upon these great themes. I lend my Watch Tower every month, and look eagerly for each new one. May God continue to bless the work.”[xiii]
Other interest from Nottingham was revealed in letters published in Zion’s Watch Tower. A letter dated November 8, 1881, seems to be from another clergyman. Though the writer, whose name is omitted from the letter as printed, said he found a few minor points in which he differed from Russell, he requested more copies:
I can never feel sufficiently thankful that out of the thousands of copies of your book, “Food for Thinking Christians” distributed in this town--a copy fell into my hands: apparently it was the merest accident; but really I regard it as a direct providence. It has thrown light upon subjects which have perplexed me for years; and has made me feel more than ever, what a glorious book the Bible is, how worthy of our profoundest study. At the same time, I came from the study of your book with the conviction that a very large proportion of the Theology of our Churches and Schools, is the merest scraps of human notions, and that our huge systems of Theology upon the study of which, some of us have spent so many laborious years--only to be the worse confused and perplexed--are infinitely more the work of mistaken men, than the inspiration of the all-wise God.
However, I may differ from the book in a few minor details, I found the main argument to be resistless, commending itself to both my head and my heart. Again let me thank you on my own behalf, for the good I have received.
I find at the close of it, you make an offer to send copies to any who have reason to believe they can make a good use of them. In my church and congregation, there is a number of intelligent persons who are interested in the second coming, and who would be only too glad to read your book, I could distribute 60 or 70 copies with advantage, you say, “ask and ye shall receive”--I have faith in your generosity.[xiv]
Russell sent not only more tracts but a copy of Day Dawn and of Tabernacle Teachings along with issues of Zion’s Watch Tower. The clergyman remains unnamed, but he wrote thanking Russell:
I thank you most sincerely for what I have received from you this last few days. The “Day Dawn,” reached me … and what I have already seen of it, has both pleased and instructed me. Like its fellow – “Food for Thinking Christians,” it needs much careful thought; but I am sure it will amply repay it. … I received the “Watch Tower” and “Tabernacle supplement,” and I am looking for more blessing through the perusal of this valuable paper, as each month brings me something fresh.
Tears came to my eyes this morning, as I read the letters of your correspondents who had received so much help and comfort from the December number. To me also it was indeed a “feast of fat things.” … I feel as though I must read my Bible all over again, for the difference between Ransom and Pardon, pointed out in your closing article, had never struck me, though obvious enough when you put it before your readers. I wonder if it will ever be my lot to come over to some of your meetings. I very much long to see this happy type of Apostolic Christianity Revived --for such I think it must be--in the persons of its professors and preachers. The books and papers I regard as a blessing sent to my house; and which will bring forth fruit in my own soul, and I trust in my people also.[xv]
Another Nottingham letter praised Food for Thinking Christians and praised it highly: “I am indeed grateful to you for the manner in which you have explained several of the most difficult points in theology. God … must have opened your eyes to see these wonders of His divine plan, and I am thankful that I have lived to see this day. I may say that I fully indorse a great deal of the new teaching, and shall adopt it for the future. I pray God to abundantly bless you for your great philanthropic resolve to bless the world by giving away these pamphlets.”[xvi]
One of the Nottingham correspondents wrote again in September 1883, saying that “the work here is progressing amongst my own congregation, and also amongst outsiders. … The work makes no great show at present, but it is advancing in many minds. I have little trouble with those people who have been accustomed to go straight to God’s Book and abide by that …. To let go old prejudice is comparatively easy to a mind made receptive by the Spirit of God. I have endeavored to act wisely, and not to ride roughshod over old views, as that might have aroused opposition and have defeated my object, which is to ‘lead into the light.’ Acting upon this method, I think I am finding my reward in a more ready reception of the truth than one might have expected.”[xvii]
Despite early interest and hopeful comments from readers, interest in Nottingham grew slowly. A report from 1914 shows only fifty-five attending the Lord’s Supper.[xviii] Nevertheless, Nottingham produced one of the first zealous workers, Aaron P. Riley, a teacher connected with the recently opened Buttler’s Hill School in Nottingham.[xix] He was a fairly young man, born in 1856 according to the 1881 British Census and twenty-five that year.
It is tempting to connect some of the other letters to him, but the first that is definitely from him appears in the September 1885 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. It’s apparent from his letter than he spread the message found in Food for Thinking Christians by word of mouth, by loaning Food and other tracts, and by preaching to what ever group would have him. His reputation served him well, and though he disconnected himself from his previous religious associations, they were unwilling to see him go. His father was an unemployed coal miner, and Aaron was probably the main support for the household. He had an older brother in the Methodist ministry.
It is probable, though not certain, that Riley’s first contact with Russell was through a letter dated April 5, 1882. His name isn’t attached to the letter as printed, but the circumstances are similar. The writer of the April 5th letter says: “I have a brother, a D. D. in the Methodist Church, and have been always told I was called to preach the blessed glad tidings, but I never have felt satisfied with orthodoxy, although I have been a member for twenty-five years. I threw out the doctrine of natural immortality five years ago, the Trinity three years ago, and with the Em Diaglott and Bible with other helps have been feeling after the truth.”[xx]
A letter printed in the September 1885 issue of The Watch Tower is not identified with his name, but in the next month’s issue Russell referred to it, saying it was from “our dear brother Riley.” His letter, sent from a village not far from Nottingham, reveals some of the difficulties encountered by those who sought to separate themselves from their past religious associations:
Since I last wrote to you, my brother who was in the Methodist ministry, has come out of her," not being able to hold the traditions and dogmas of the deceived elders. He will not accept all my views, but is very much more in favor of Zion’s Watch Tower, "Food" and "Tabernacle" teachings than he was some time ago.
My position is a most peculiar one. I have had my name taken off the books and refuse to subscribe towards the connectional funds, but the people with whom I have labored so long are not willing that I should leave them. They know my views, in some measure at any rate, and are willing for me to teach them, saying we are Christians, brethren in Christ, and on that ground we claim your fellowship; we don't care what you believe; we know you are a Christian and that is enough for us. It is the fellowship we desire not the name.
They are a most loving little band of people, and you may rest assured that the grains of truth let fall and those scattered, are not lost. If I am doing wrongly I only want the Lord of the vineyard to show me and give me something to do somewhere else. I cannot live without working for the Master, but it seems very slow work.
I have to preach for these people next Wednesday, and intend taking "The Lord's Coming" (discourse) from the Tower, with additions. May the Lord of the harvest separate the wheat. I have had some severe conversations with one of the ministers here which only confirms my faith in God's word and the Watch Tower’s interpretation; it is by such things we are made strong.
I do long for the manifestation of the Son of God, though I am by no means certain of being amongst specially favored ones. I was only a very nominal Christian until after 1881. I am totally unworthy and unfit for such a glorious high calling, but I know my joy will be full if I'm only a meek inheritor of the earth.
It is a great trial for the members to be separate. I don't know how others feel, but I do long for the fellowship, face to face with another who holds Zion’s Watch Tower's teachings as fully as myself; but organizations are not to be desired, therefore, we must wait patiently and if the Lord will, I'll praise him in company with the other brethren in his kingdom.
I would not part with my Towers for their weight in gold. I am reading all carefully through again and making notes. May the Lord bless you ever more and more abundantly.
Another letter from Riley found its way into print after the publication of Millennial Dawn was announced. He sent money for “as many copies” as it would pay for, apparently sending British money in payment, but expressed some disappointment in the results of his missionary effort: “I am sorry I cannot report any marked improvement in the work here, but every number of the Tower encourages us to go on quietly doing what we can, leaving results, though we are thankful for some evidences of good being done. If men will not come right out, they confess we are right.”[xxi]
Aaron Riley continued his active support at least until 1895, writing periodically to Russell. He is mentioned for the last time in the January 1, 1895, issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. Russell explained that Riley had been supplying libraries with sets of the Millennial Dawn series. In a letter to Russell, Riley mentions actively seeking subscribers for their magazine. He was ill and trying to work around it. He had a history of illness, mentioning a stay in a "convalescent home” in a letter to Russell ten years previously. He seems to have died shortly thereafter.[xxii]
By April 1882 interest was great enough that Russell extended a call for preachers in England: “We have many inquiries from England, relative to preaching—if there are among those interested in these things there, some who can declare them publicly, they have a great and grand field. Let us hear from you. Some one or two should be in London.”[xxiii] If there was an immediate response, I cannot find it.
A ‘brother from London’ wrote to Russell in late 1882 suggesting that the ideas from Food for Thinking Christians were affecting the sermons and thought of British clergy. He visited Spurgeon’s tabernacle and came away with these impressions:
It was on an occasion in which his audience was supposed to be entirely of strangers, and we were very gently led to suppose that possibly if we were not brought to the light in this age, there might be a chance in another, but that after all it is better to be converted at once so as to make sure of it. This man has vastly changed in regard to what he preaches since I have known him. He has evidently read the book “Food” and is breaking it gently. It may be bias, though I think not, but I fancy that the “Food” must have been read in many thinking quarters, because I very distinctly recognize in many of the leaders of pulpit thought, the spirit of the work. I believe that the fruit is ripening.[xxiv]
Other interaction with Spurgeon’s temple was reported. One cannot say with certainty if it was through the same individual since neither letter was printed with a signature, but in May 1882 a British correspondent wrote:
I have held up the thoughts given in your works of “Tabernacle” and “Food” to some of Spurgeon's people, and they were unable to gainsay me. It does seem to be too good to be true, but nothing is too hard for God, and I confess I see a harmony between the infinite Creator and created (fallen) man, given in the Bible as brought out by the light from your exposition that I never have seen before. It satisfies my understanding and my longing spirit. Can I with fair speaking ability be exalted by our dear Lord to the high honor of telling or preaching the glad tidings, which are to all people, that Jesus anointed tasted death for every man, and all may look and live? Whatever tracts and instructions you have in the divine mysteries of truth will you have the kindness to forward by return mail, as I may be required to leave London by the 1st of May, and please instruct me how and what to preach so as to accomplish the blessed work God wishes done.[xxv]
Among the many requests for additional tracts was one that said, “Will you please send two or three copies of the Tabernacle and its Teachings, for which we shall wait, with great desire, to be fed with more food from our Master's table. Will you please send also another copy of Food, because the one that we have is getting so much worn, that we have to paste some of it together. If we had many copies of it we could judiciously give them away. We pray that the Lord will bless you more abundantly. Though strangers in the flesh, we can say we are one in the bonds of the Lord Jesus.”[xxvi] This letter is especially interesting because it reveals an inclination among readers to circulate the tracts. Much of the work in the British field would be accomplished by “clubbing” subscriptions and loaning publications.
Among the first permanent associations built off receipt of Watch Tower pamphlets was a small group in Islington, London. The brief history in the 1973 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses says:
Tom Hart of Islington, London, wrote for and received three pamphlets. He also received Zion’s Watch Tower regularly for nine months, all without charge—a new experience in the religious field. From then on he became a regular subscriber. He was struck by the theme that ran through each issue, namely, “Get out of her, my people”—a Scriptural call to leave Christendom’s religious groups and follow Bible teaching. He and a fellow railwayman, Johnathan Ling, began studying together. This led to Hart’s formally resigning from the chapel in 1884, soon to be followed by Ling and a dozen others who began to meet together. This appears to be the first record of regular meetings of this sort in Britain. Many who shared in such meetings also showed a willingness to engage in the work of spreading enlightenment to others.
Thom Hart was born in Calcutta, India, in 1853. At the time of the 1881 Census he had moved his family from the Islington address to 5 Lavinia Grove, Middlesex, London. He was “a carman” for one of the railroads. In another place he is called “a railroad shunter.”[xxvii] He and his wife had three children, two sons and one daughter, all under the age of four. I can find no helpful information about Johnathan Ling.
That the group organized by Tom Hart was the first in the U.K. is mistaken, but a small group was meeting in London by March 1884. It may have been Tom Hart who wrote a letter appearing in the March issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. Whoever the writer was, he expressed his continuing appreciation of the Watch Tower. He always prayed for its safe arrival and was thankful that he had not missed one issue in two years. “I am able to report a little progress for the last twelve months,” he wrote. “Our meeting is the most liberal that I know of; brethren who are expelled from other meetings for change of belief find refuge amongst us. I have gained the attention of two young men who live near me, and they visit me two or three evenings a week, to enquire ‘what is truth?’ One comes oftener than the other and makes more progress. He goes and spreads the good news as a steward of the manifold grace of God. These two enclose subscriptions with me for the Tower.”
The same letter reported continuing opposition to message in Food for Thinking Christians: “Some time ago I heard read in my presence in a most solemn manner 2d Pet. 2:1, in condemnation of ‘Food for Thinking Christians.’ If I had not seen the tower explanation of the ‘image of the beast’ I should have been frightened out of my wits.”[xxviii]
Another letter from London dated January 1885 shows those interested using every opportunity to share their beliefs:
I had the pleasure of finding a man preaching in the Park, who had been a member of a chapel 8 years, and had left it and despaired of finding a church what it ought to be. He was preaching against the hypocrisy of the Church of England, and the oppression of the poor. … He was so delighted after about two hour’s conversation, you would think he had had a fortune left him. He preached tower views the following Sunday, read parts of Food for thinking Christians to them, showed them the plan of the ages, and quite interested the people generally. “The Christian Evidence Society,” sent out to oppose him, but they had no good news for the people, and as he had, they were anxious to hear it. He was about emigrating to Australia, so we did not have his company more than three weeks. He told the people how he would spread the ‘glad tidings’ in Australia and borrow a barn or shed to keep the rays of the sun off himself and his hearers. As soon as he is settled there he will write to you and order the watch tower. … We have interested another in the tower, who is now in Liverpool. He has ordered and received it. We have some profitable times, about a dozen of us, but have not yet begun to preach or lecture to the public, although our hall will hold about three hundred.[xxix]
A letter dated June 29, 1885, seems to come from the same correspondent. The letter thanks the Russells for the literature sent and recounted both the spiritual benefit received and his practice of loaning it out. He asked for more. His practice of approaching individuals or small groups somewhat estranged from the established church continued. He told of this encounter:
At one place, having found a quiet earnest body of believers on a retired street--belonging to no particular sect, I offered to lay before them all that I myself had learned. They received me cordially, and requested me three times to meet them, once at a general assembly. Having made a large wall copy from your Chart of the Ages I hung it up on the wall and sat amidst those earnest thirsty people to tell them the good news, inviting them to question me afterwards, which they did; some very sharply, and as if to trip me; but let the Lord receive all praise! It was given me to answer quietly, and one of the most arrogant of my opponents came up afterwards wrung my hand and thanked me begging I would return again. But the Salvation Army, it seems had begun to influence these Christians so that my teachings offering to go further than it’s teachings made them afraid, I think, to give ear beyond the time I was with them. I left a copy of “Food” which they promised to meet together and study with the Scriptures; but curiously enough so soon as I had left for London --the book was lost. However, many men and women have become interested in the teachings, to whom I distributed the sample towers. My work lies chiefly at the present time among detached individuals; and in writing to the absent. Only one, truly enlightened, lives near me, a police constable, who is too poor to send the money he would, to you, having a large family. He longs for a Diaglott of his own: I have lent him mine occasionally. Before long I could buy him one I think, and if so, will send the money to you; but can you supply him with regular towers and some of the books? He has a wide means of working; at present, he has my papers to read and that is all.[xxx]
Another letter in this series appeared in the October 1885 issue of The Watch Tower. Meetings were more regular, but small. Interest was increasing:
Our little Bible class does not grow very large, but we are not building on numbers. We find we get some very precious seasons with about four, and I think up to the present our best meetings have been the smallest; and during the week when two or three meet for a few minutes we often part with some new thought or reminder of the grandeur of the plan or character of God, and go forth with renewed energy to serve him. I find the experience vastly different from my previous experience in the nominal church, then doubting and fearing with a very indefinite idea of what was future both for the servants of God and those who did not serve him.[xxxi]
By 1887 another small group developed in London. A man signed in The Watch Tower as “Fred S. D____” wrote that he had “been … reading and praying with friends over the truths contained in the book entitled ‘Food for thinking Christians.’” He felt guided to the book by “our loving Father.” He explained that he had the book for about five years and “never thought of reading or becoming in any way, interested in it … but blessed be God! He has caused us (a few young men and women) to thirst and hunger after righteousness, and also implanted within us a desire to ‘come out and be separate,’ and to fully consecrate ourselves to Him who has redeemed us: and also to know of the things of God that we may be the better able to serve Him.” He asked for more literature.[xxxii]
Zion’s Watch Tower first noted interest in Birmingham in March 1883 with a letter from a correspondent there. The letter reveals that at least one person was street tracting in Birmingham: “The book was put into my hands last winter as I passed up a main thoroughfare in the above town, on my way home from work.” The writer recalled setting Food for Thinking Christians aside to pursue what they then thought was more interesting reading, but had returned to it. He found it lucid, easy to understand and convincing, and asked for literature to circulate among his friends.[xxxiii]
Another letter from Birmingham appeared in the August 1883 issue. The writer referred to prejudice against the material because it came from the United States, apparently connecting it to issues remaining from the American Civil War. Nevertheless, they found the message in Food for Thinking Christians to be consoling and instructive. The writer said “the good news appears to be most acceptable to ‘Dissenters,’ and still more so to those who are sectarians in name only, but to the ‘Orthodox’ ones it is most objectionable. ... A great stumbling block to many is the fact that we have no sectarian badge, and while seeing but little truth in many so fettered, they cannot realize any in those who are absolutely free.”[xxxiv]
A. O. Hudson, editor of Bible Study Monthly a British Bible Student publication, says that the first organized meetings were in Glasgow starting in 1883. He presents no other details.[xxxv] It appears that Hudson is correct or nearly so. A letter dated 1884 from an unnamed Glasgow correspondent reported that “the brethren and sisters in Glasgow” met in their house to celebrate “the Passover,” meaning the Lord’s Memorial Supper.[xxxvi] Also, a “brother in Christ” reported meeting with four sisters and six brothers in Glasgow. Their meetings seem to have very irregular. He reported only two meetings within the month previous to his letter, but he stated their intention to meet for the Memorial meal.[xxxvii] In a follow-up letter he reported an attendance of twelve, though he observed that “One brother remarked there were thirteen present, Jesus being in the midst of us.”[xxxviii]
One of the first letters to Zion’s Watch Tower was from Edinburgh sent by a missionary and divinity student “in the last session” of his course. He expressed a desire to preach on the themes found In Food for Thinking Christians and asked for additional copies, and some copies of the booklet Tabernacle Teachings.[xxxix]
The message reached Halifax at least by 1885. A letter found in the July 1885 issue said its writer was greatly interested by Food for Thinking Christians. He wrote that “It has greatly instructed and interested me, and led me into a new region of biblical teaching, presenting many aspects of truth altogether overlooked, the importance and scripturalness of which appear to me most clear and well founded. I have a strong desire to receive further teaching in the same direction.” He requested a copy of Tabernacle Teachings.[xl]
A letter headed simply Yorkshire came from someone “working in an empty house” who found a copy of Food for Thinking Christians minus its title page. He was persuaded by reading the lose pages and found Russell’s address. He asked for more literature.[xli]
In most localities organization was spontaneous. People shared the tracts, discussed them with others, and, finding some agreement, met together. This left individuals and small groups disconnected from fellow believers.
As early as July 1882, there was a call for organization. An individual from Sunderland, England, asked: “Could you not arrange some plan by which we, who rejoice in the same blessed truths, might have the opportunity of at least corresponding with each other, on this side of the Atlantic? You see there may be others only a short distance from me who, like myself, are yearning to find some with whom they may hold sweet communion on our blessed hope.” In the same issue of Zion’s Watch Tower was a letter from Sunderland noting that some where meeting together regularly: “we have now a Bible-class every Monday at 7 P.M. ‘The Food’ we keep circulating in ‘good ground,’ so far as human judgment can discern; and it is delightful to hear their expressions of surprise and gladness at our kindness in thinking of them. One brother here tells me he lent the ‘Food’ and ‘Tabernacle’ to one of their ministers, and the subjects have laid hold of him.”[xlii]
Russell was not immediately forthcoming with an organizational plan and made no printed reply to the request for one. We can safely suppose that he provided the correspondent who felt isolated with the address of the regular meeting in Sunderland.
Similar expressions came from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. A letter sent from Glasgow dated February, 16, 1885, probably stands for the feelings of many: “The monthly visits of the tower are so highly prized by me that I would feel the want of them very much. They are my only comfort now, being cut off from all the sects called churches.”[xliii] As remarked before, meeting sprang up spontaneously in Glasgow, prompted in part by a need for fellowship with those of like faith.
In October 1885 Russell reflected on the interest from the British field and found it disappointing. He tended to measure success against cost, figuring that each of the three hundred British subscribers had cost about forty dollars in expenses, not counting the cost of voluntary labor in the work. Perhaps measuring success in this way was natural for a businessman, but he quickly reconsidered. “These were discouraging thoughts,” he wrote, “and then we though of the great cost—of the Master’s sacrifice—of what the expense of our salvation had been; not in silver or gold, but the precious blood of Christ.”[xliv]
Russell’s statement brought a number of responses from readers in Scotland and England. They pointed out that “interest there is probably much beyond our appreciation or the number of names on our list; because there it is quite customary among the middle classes for several persons to take papers in partnership and read by turn.”[xlv]
The financial situation in Britain that lent itself to clubbing magazine subscriptions helped form a de facto organization at least on a neighborhood basis. Conversations and meetings would be the natural result of discussing a shared subscription.
When Bender and Sunderlin were in the United Kingdom, the plan was to circulate Food for Thinking Christians in Ireland too. The March 1882 issue of The Watch Tower, already quoted, suggests they did. There is no surviving record. Any work in Ireland in the 1880’s produced little result. By 1904 there was a small group in Dublin and another in Belfast. The 1988 Yearbook history suggests they were the result of Russell’s visit to Ireland in 1891. This seems unrealistic. Any growth probably derived from previous interest, particularly among Irish Protestants.
[i] Barratt, Noris and Julius Sachs: Freemasonry in Pennsylvania: 1727-1907, Philadelphia, 1919, Volume 3, page 423. Transactions of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania: 1866-1867, Taylor & Hickman, West Chester, 1867, page 13.
[ii] The Sunday School Journal 1871:47.
[iii] See the notice of sale in the June 1886 issue, page 28.
[iv] Americans in London, The New York Times, July 12, 1881. Quotation is from the article “Current Literature,” The Literary World, March 6, 1886, page 86.
[v] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1882, reprints page 325.
[vi] From Brother J. J. Bender, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 6.
[vii] Russell, C. T.: In the Vineyard, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 5.
[viii] Sunderlin, J. C.: Words from Brother Sunderlin, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 6.
[ix] Notes and Comments: Spiritualism and the Religious Press, The Psychological Review, December 1881, pages 234-237.
[x] Godfrey, N. S.: Latter-Day Spiritualism, The Prophetic News and Israel’s Watchman, February 1882, page 60.
[xi] The only reference to James Leslie I can find is in History of Toronto and County of York Ontario, C. Blackett Robinson, Toronto, 1885, Volume 1, page 295. It says that “the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute was established in January, 1831, at a meeting of influential citizens called by Mr. James Leslie, now of Eglinton.” The Mechanics’ Institute library formed the basis for the Toronto Library system.
[xii] Leslie, James: Denominational Creeds, The Rainbow: A Magazine of Christian Literature, February 1883, pages 90-91.
[xiii] Letter headed Nottingham, England, April 13, 1882, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1882, reprints pages 356-357.
[xiv] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1881, page 2.
[xv] Letter headed Nottingham, Eng., Feb. 24th, 1882, Zion’s Watch Tower,May 1882, page 2.
[xvi] Letter headed “Nottingham, England,” Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1882, page 1.
[xvii] Letter headed “Nottingham, England,” Zion’s Watch Tower, September 1883, page 1.
[xviii] The Memorial Celebration, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1, 1914, page 143.
[xix] See The Practical Teacher: A Monthly Educational Journal, February 1882, page 596.
[xx] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1882, reprints page 346.
[xxi] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, September 1886, page 2.
[xxii] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1885, page 2 and Encouraging Words from Faithful Workers, Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1, 1895, page 24.
[xxiii] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, Aril 1882, page 1.
[xxiv] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1882, page 1.
[xxv] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1882, page 1.
[xxvi] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1884, page 1.
[xxvii] 2000 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watchtower Society, New York, 2000, page 69.
[xxviii] Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1884, page 1. This letter is omitted from the reprints.
[xxix] Extracts from Interesting Letters,
[xxx] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1885, page 2.
[xxxi] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, October 1885, page 2.
[xxxii] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1887, page 2.
[xxxiii] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, pages 1-2.
[xxxiv] Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1883, page 2.
[xxxv] Hudson, A. O.: Letters from Readers Re: January/February Diamond Anniversary Issue, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, May-June 1994.
[xxxvi] Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1884, page 2.
[xxxvii] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1885, page 2.
[xxxviii] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1885, page 2.
[xxxix] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1882, page 2.
[xl] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1885, page 2.
[xli] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, October 1885, page 2.
[xlii] View from the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, pages 1-2.
[xliii] Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1885, page 2.
[xliv] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, October 1885, reprints page 785.
[xlv] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 1885, page 1.