Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charles Taze Russell and The Restitution

by "Jerome"

(Note: The article below was first published on the closed blog in June of last year. Since there has been some recent debate over whether CTR’s theology was mainly influenced by Adventist or Age to Come belief, it seemed relevant to republish it here. The Restitution was the main paper for Age to Come believers in the last three decades of the 19th century. The amount of space they gave to CTR, and the increasingly unfriendly tone of their comments as CTR’s theology developed, is a strong indication of where he had come from, and then – in their minds – deviated from. This writer suspects that researchers would be hard put to find a similar level of fixation in Adventist publications of the era, which tells its own story.

There is also a postscript at the end detailing what further research has uncovered since the article was originally published)

One of the key Age to Come papers of the 19th century was The Restitution. It started life as a successor to journals edited by Benjamin Wilson (of the Emphatic Diaglott) and his nephew Thomas Wilson. The title Restitution ran from 1870 to 1926.

It originally represented scattered autonomous groups that used terms like Abrahamic Faith, One Faith, Age to Come, Blessed Hope and Church of God, and originally allowed a wide range of views, as well as debating with what one writer called “half brethren” (July 28, 1880, page 2) such as Adventists and Christadelphians. Regular hot topics included the Second Advent, the resurrection, Jesus’ pre-human existence, a personal Devil, and what current events with literal Israel might mark the close of the Gentile Times.

Contributors in the 1870s included familiar names such as George Storrs and particularly George Stetson. Between 1876-1878 Stetson may possibly have written more for The Restitution than for Adventist journals like the Times and Crisis.

We know that Charles Taze Russell (hereafter abbreviated to CTR) associated with Storrs and Stetson, and also attended meetings with G D Clowes, who is listed preaching at Quincy Hall, Allegheny in the Restitution’s Church Directory in its issue for November 5, 1874. When George Storrs visited what he called a “little group in Pittsburgh” in the mid-1870s, he met both Clowes and Joseph Lytel Russell, CTR’s father. (See for example, Storrs’ Bible Examiner for November 1875, where both G D Clowes and J L Russell write to Storrs about the same meetings). Although CTR is not mentioned here, he obviously associated with Clowes because ZWT for March 1889 carries an obituary where CTR refers to “our dear Brother Clowes” (see reprints page 1110).

So when CTR began his own publishing ministry, The Restitution was an obvious place to send his material.

This article is going to look at CTR’s connections with The Restitution over a ten year period. During this time, in addition to his own periodical, CTR published four main works, Three Worlds, Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return, Food for Thinking Christians, and The Divine Plan of the Ages. All were featured in The Restitution, and in a sense, they illustrate how the relationship between CTR and this One Faith group deteriorated as the years went by.


An advertisement for Three Worlds in found in The Restitution for May 30, 1877, on page 3. Three silhouetted globes surround the title Three Worlds. It may well have been a paid advertisement, and it would be interesting to discover which other papers also printed it. It gives the publisher as C T Russell, Rochester, NY. The by-line reads – should be in the hands of every Bible student. No actual review has been found in surviving issues of The Restitution.

Nelson Barbour of course was the main author of Three Worlds, CTR’s role here was as publisher.


The Restitution for February 27, 1878 on page 2 made the following announcement: The Restitution supplement, as was noticed last week, was furnished by the writer C T Russell, to the readers of our paper, at his own expense both for the printing and mailing. (end of quote). Unfortunately it does not give a title and the issue from the previous week which probably did give a name is lost. Editorial comment suggests that this was Object and Manner which would be the logical thing for CTR to send out at that time.

It illustrated that CTR, as a successful businessman, had one advantage over many others – he could afford to send out material at his own expense both for the printing and the mailing. By contrast, The Restitution was always concerned about lack of funds and asking for donations. It is interesting to note that CTR chose this journal for the purpose.

The results must have been mixed. The review has a friendly but condescending tone. Rather magnanimously it states “we do not wish to prejudice our readers as it is a present to them which has been quite an expense to the writer”. However, readers must “prove all things” and the reviewer certainly had different views on resurrection and the Second Advent. Still (to quote again) the “fair chance” part of the supplement will probably please some of our readers. (end of quote).

Assuming that this February 27 freebie was Object and Manner, when others had time to assimilate its contents, they were not prepared to be so charitable. In The Restitution for June 26, 1878 one Restitution stalwart, J. B. Cook, had read it through thoroughly and did not like it one bit.

Cook’s review took center stage on the front page – The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return by C.T. Russell, noticed by J.B.Cook.

Cook starts by saying the pamphlet had been circulated both directly and indirectly and he received his copy with Herald of the Morning. The suggestion that Christ’s return had already taken place invisibly did not sit at all well with Cook. And as for the “second chance” gospel from H. Dunn, this was “another gospel”. Cook’s review is peppered with expressions like – delusive - utterly fallacious - the phantom of an excited brain... He concludes his attack with the words: (quote) It is in deep sorrow for them that I write. Brother R is spending his money for that which is not bread, and the brethren are scattered by “uncertain sounds, yet I rejoice. “The Lord knoweth them that are his”. Amen. “The half has not been told” to these brethren, but adieu. (end of quote).

There is a hint of theatrical flourish in the final “adieu” with perhaps a suggestion of 1 John 2 v.19 about it – “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort” (NWT)


CTR’s next publication for mass distribution was the 160 page pamphlet Food for Thinking Christians. Ultimately, over one million were circulated. This could hardly be ignored by The Restitution, although they really tried.

It was general policy to include cuttings from exchanged journals as fillers, and the November 2, 1881 issue of The Restitution, page 2, quoted from a letter J. C. Sunderlin sent to Zion’s Watch Tower from London. Sunderlin gives a little homily on running the Christian race, prompted by an engraving seen in a Fleet Street window. (The original is found in Zion’s Watch Tower for October-November 1881, reprints page 292.)

Sunderlin’s whole point in being in London was to organize the distribution of Food for Thinking Christians, but you would never know that from The Restitution. One wonders why they even quoted what they did.

The silence about Food continued for a year or two, by which time many Age to Come groups were familiar with the publication and it could no longer be ignored. The June 13, 1883 Restitution finally devoted four long columns on its back page to the problem, in the article A Brief Review by regular writer Wiley Jones. In a critical and not particularly brief review, Jones studiously managed to avoid mentioning either the name of the book, the publisher, or the author. He even makes the point that (quote) the name of the writer does not appear on the title-page (end of quote) – which was true but the implication appears deliberately misleading. All Jones would admit to was that (quote) a pamphlet of 160 pages, published in 1881...has been handed to me with a request that I would say something against its errors. (end of quote).

Wiley Jones obligingly referred to specific page numbers as he presented his criticism. His pen was not quite as poisonous in tone as J.B. Cook’s, but his view was much the same. The idea of the “second chance” for many dead did not appeal, and the chronological speculations on the timing of an invisible presence and the start of the resurrection were definitely not something for Restitution readers. By his amnesic approach to title and author Jones no doubt hoped to prevent further readers checking it out for themselves – even if just out of curiosity. But those who had seen the Food booklet would have no doubt what was being criticized.


CTR’s next major work, and ultimately the one that received the widest distribution of all was the first volume of Millennial Dawn, entitled The Divine Plan of the Ages.

CTR’s Divine Plan was widely reviewed. J B Rotherham for example, in The Rainbow for December 1886 was to give it over nine pages. The Restitution regularly quoted from The Rainbow, and no doubt some of its readers subscribed. And these journals had other journals in common. The writing was on the Age to Come wall - you cannot avoid mentioning a book that everyone else will mention. So The Restitution’s own review appeared on October 13, 1886.

And here we hit a problem. The extant Restitution file was put together from several church collections in the 1980s and unfortunately the poor quality paper used, along with imperfect storage conditions over a century means they are incomplete. Frustratingly a key chunk of the Restitution’s review – what THEY actually thought about CTR’s book is missing. The main section that survives is quotes from other reviewers. As such these are secondary sources – where you have to take on trust that they have been quoted correctly and in context. However, in reviewing CTR’s links with The Restitution, it does seem worthwhile to document here that they did, in fact, review The Divine Plan of the Ages.

What survives of their review is reproduced in full below:

“Millennial Dawn – The Divine Plan of the Ages, by Charles T. Russell – (Pittsburgh: Zion’s Watch Tower). The Inter Ocean has before made mention of this work. It is the first of a series of volumes, each complete in itself, and designed to expound and make clear “the plan of the ages” in the salvation of man. It is strong writing, showing much research and excellent arrangement and method in its treatment of its subjects. Upon the opening pages is a chart marked “the chart of the ages,” which divides the periods into three dispensations. First to the flood – 1656 years; second includes the Jewish or gospel age, and third, yet to be fulfilled, the millennial age under the reign of Christ. “For this end Christ died and lived again that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” There will doubtless be many exceptions taken to the theology of the writing, but none will doubt the honesty or earnestness, or the intended devotion to truth of the author. Christian readers may find teachings in the book to combat, but they will find much more to commend. From a scholarly standpoint the book will be marked as one of merited literary excellence.”

On the contrary the New York Independent says: - “Millennial Dawn, Volume 1, The Plan of the Ages, throws no light on our mind, and only adds to the old perplexities. It is hard to classify either the book or the author. He is a fifth monarchy man, and talks in a wild and dangerously anarchic way of the authority of governments and of social order. He seems to belong to the wing of the Adventists, known as “Sleepers” on account of their belief that all men, good and bad, sleep in Jesus until their “restitution” at the pre-millennial coming of Christ. At all events, he believes in the restitution at the second and pre-millennial advent of the entire race to an earthly life under the reign of Christ, and with Jerusalem as the world’s capital. The mild reign of the Prince of Peace hardens in his hands to a “rule of iron,” which, with evident relish of the anticipation, he asserts will not be at all to the liking of a very considerable portion of the 142,000,000,000 of the restored dead. So far as we can disentangle the confusion of the book, it is a ludicrous mixture of restorationism, pre-millennialism of the more or less orthodox type, and a large portion of adventism of a kind which we must leave to those who believe in it to say whether it is orthodox or heretical. To us it falls into the large but simple class of well-meant fooleries.”

Thus our readers will see how the “doctors disagree.” While there is no paper that comes to our office that we more highly esteem than the Independent, we think the literary reviewer, who wrote the above critique, has been too caustic in some of his expressions, and somewhat unfortunate in a few of his leading objections; inasmuch as these very objections seem to conflict as much with positive Scripture language as with statements contained in the book reviewed. See Ps ii. 9; Rev. ii. 26,27.

Human destiny is a problem of immensely solemn importance. Ontology, Soteriology, Eschatology, - the doctrines of Existence, of Salvation, of Last-Things – are the irrepressible questions forcing themselves upon the attention of all the thoughtful in this age of critical investigation. It has become apparent to many theologians – though painfully so in many instances – that the old creeds are about so many concentrated formularies of extravagant error on eternal retribution. To speak for ourselves, we like some chapters of this work. Of other chapters we must say that the themes discussed are open questions. To those...

(at this tantalizing point nine lines are missing, and then the last four lines are incomplete)

....woman (?) what.....saved, and obtain....of glory that fadeth not away.

(end of review)

It would be nice if – somewhere - a copy with the complete review could be found.

So, looking back one can see the distance growing between the Age-to-Come people and the fledgling Bible Student movement – although any attacks on conditional immortality would provoke a mutually defensive position.

In 1902, it must have been extremely galling for the Restitution office, who had stocked Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott for decades, when CTR obtained the plates and took over the role of publisher.

If their new people wanted a Diaglott, or if older members wished to replace one, now they had to go to The Watch Tower. Which probably meant they would read a copy of The Watch Tower. Horror of horrors! They might even choose to become Bible Students instead.


The article above had to assume that the supplement sent out with The Restitution for February 20, 1878, was CTR’s Object and Manner, because regrettably this particular issue is not extant. This can now be confirmed from George Storrs’ review in Bible Examiner for March 1878, page 167. Storrs writes about Object and Manner (quote) The author is one of my very dear friends, and is a sincere lover of truth. I have not the slightest doubt of his stern integrity...his sacrifice of time and money shows his faith (end of quote). But Storrs cannot accept the second presence concept and that it has already happened, and quotes approvingly from a current Restitution review, which queries invisible presence, and is critical, albeit in a kindly fashion.

Volume 2 of CTR’s Millennial Dawn series, The Time is at Hand, was given a kindly review by A J Eychaner in The Restitution for February 4, 1891. Eychaner disputes aspects of chronology (quote) I wish in this paper simply to call attention to an error in the count of Bro. Russell, which I think is fatal to his whole time argument (end of quote). However, this review is quite friendly, it calls CTR “Brother” and ends with “Submitted in all charity”.

By The Restitution for December 12, 1894, comments on Volume 2 were far more vitriolic. CTR has been (quote) blinded by his own invention...we squarely charge the author of Millennial Dawn with setting aside the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and representing his as deceiving the apostles by creating a body and clothing for that purpose. A man who would represent him in whose mouth was no guile, as capable of such abominable trickery in order to sustain his own, or some borrowed subterfuge, ought to be closely watched...All this folly grows out of want of faith in that great and glorious truth – justification by faith (end of quote).

What had probably not helped the writer’s blood pressure was the previous issue for December 5, 1894, detailing how a Bible Student had been giving out copies of the Old Theology Tract no. 21 Do You Know outside their place of worship. Restitution readers were being targeted! In the words of the writer (quote) evidently the Christ Mr Russell expects to reign with, never died for him....we admit there is a fraud, and as between the Lord Jesus and Mr. Russell, we decide it is the latter (end quote).

As noted at the end of the original article, CTR obtaining the plates for the Diaglott must have been the last straw.


roberto.testimonidigeova said...

Thank you Jerome for the republished article. Very interesting.

So, the age-to-come believers didn't believe in the invisible presence, and in a second chance for the dead. Right?

Storrs didn't believe in the invisible presence, but believed in a second chance for the dead.

Russell believed in the invisible presence since 1874 (book on Nelson Barbour pg. 89), and probably also in the second chance for the dead.

The invisible presence was a thought of Isaac Newton.

What did Henry Dunn believe about invisible presence? In those years, apart Russell and Barbour, who else believed in the invisible presence?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Actually, many Age to Come people did believe in an invisible presence, but the did not believe it had begun. Myers, Eyechaner and others believed in a two-stage presence, the same belief that Russell had until 1881. That belief postulates that Christ is first invisible, accomplishes the resurrection of the Saints and some other things, then becomes visible for judgments.

Russell abandoned that belief in 1881. Belief in a two-stage innitially invisible presnece is not uncommon, and was not in the 19th century. Some who left Adventism for Age to Come belif, especially One Faith belief (as associated with the Wilsons and Reeds) had suggested that Christ came invisibly in 1844. The abandoned that idea in fairly short order.

Russell and Storrs did not really believe in a "second chance." They believed in a "fair chance." Second probation, or second chance, doctrine supposes a failure and a second try. Storrs and Russell (and others) said that some, never having truly heard God's word, never had a fair chance. Resurrection would give them that chance.

jerome said...

Future probation deserves an article all on its own - might try one day.

But there seem to be three descriptions bandied about for it - generally by critics. There was "better chance" - to which the retort was, how could it be a better chance if now we can part of the bride of Christ? - then there was "second chance" - to which the retort was, no it wasn't because they never had a first chance in this life - and then "fair chance" - which makes a certain sense, although Storrs objected to that description too in Bible Examiner for October 1875 page 4.

roberto.testimonidigeova said...

Thank you for the answers, Jerome and Sha'el.