Charles Taze Russell: Biography, Books & Predictions

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we take a closer look at Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Specifically, we will discuss his life, his writings, and his predictions for the end of the world.

Door-to-Door and More

If a knock at your door ever turned out to be Jehovah's Witnesses, you may be curious how this religious sect developed. To understand this group, we must look at the life, writing, and predictions of its founder, Charles Taze Russell.

Crisis of Faith

Born in 1852, Charles Taze Russell spent his first 16 years as a member of a Presbyterian congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, at 16 years old, Russell began to struggle with his faith, a common issue in mid-19th century America. Russell questioned how anyone could know which sect of Christianity to follow when they all seemed to have such conflicting doctrine. In fact, many new denominations formed at this time, indicating a crisis of religious identity in the country. It further intensified the type of confusion Russell experienced with the addition of even more doctrines to choose from.

Charles Taze Russell
Charles Taze Russell

It seemed, for Russell's struggle at least, the answers came from a chance encounter with an Adventist. The Adventists formed from the teaching of Baptist preacher William Miller who proclaimed Christ would return in 1843. This prediction, and the recalculated predictions that followed had already failed by the time Charles Taze Russell was born, yet several of Miller's followers carried on the doctrine of the impending return of Christ, even trying to reinterpret Miller's predictions or making new predictions of their own. Soon, Russell formed his own Bible study group, The Millennial Dawn Bible Study. As their leader, he directed their study of scripture with a focus on prophecy and predicting the Second Coming of Christ.

Bible Study Convention
Bible Study Convention

When Charles Taze Russell received a copy of Nelson H. Barbour's Adventist magazine, The Herald of the Morning, he agreed with Barbour's ideas and, in 1876, offered financial and editorial support for the project. Barbour's doctrine asserted that the Second Coming predictions did not fail, but that Christ has returned invisibly to establish his kingdom. He also stated that the Rapture, the vanishing of Christians called to heaven before the end of the world, would occur in 1878. When this prediction failed and Barbour tried to reinterpret doctrine to justify his error, Russell rejected the beliefs and convinced a number of followers to leave as well. Shortly after, Russell and his followers began publishing their own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, distributed to a copy of Barbour's mailing list.


Russell's Written Legacy

As time passed, Russell's writing via the Watchtower, what the magazine's name was later shortened to, became increasingly divergent from mainstream Christian doctrine. Eventually, rather than asking followers to comb through past editions of the magazine to understand doctrine, Russell wrote a series of six books named for his Bible study group, The Millenial Dawn. A seventh book in the series, written by Russell's successor Judge J.F. Rutherford, completed the series. The following is a list of each book's title and main topic.

  1. The Plan for the Ages: The first volume outlines Biblical history according to Russell's doctrine.
  2. The Time is at Hand: This book further focuses on prophesy and the chronology of Biblical history to establish that the end of the world was imminent.
  3. Thy Kingdom Come: The most controversial volume, this book combines biblical prophecy and measurement of the Great Pyramid at Giza to identify a date for Christ's return.
  4. The Day of Vengeance: A dark volume, this book details the world's upcoming destruction and explains why such doom is necessary.
  5. The At-one-ment Between God and Man: A more uplifting book, this volume discusses the purpose and meaning of atonement and the closeness with God that results from atonement and forgiveness.
  6. The New Creation: The last volume written by Russell, it focuses on the new, perfect Earth after the Second Coming of Christ and how it will be ruled.

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