Did Russell Claim Infallibility?
The following are some quotes from Charles Taze Russell concerning his own view of his works, especially as related to whether he considered his works infallible:
No system of theology should be presented, or accepted, which overlooks or omits the most prominent features of Scripture teaching. We trust, however, that a wide distinction will be recognized between the earnest, sober and reverent study of prophecy and other scriptures, in the light of accomplished historic facts, to obtain conclusions which sanctified common sense can approve, and a too common practice of general speculation, which, when applied to divine prophecy, is too apt to give loose rein to wild theory and vague fancy. Those who fall into this dangerous habit generally develop into prophets (?) instead of prophetic students. – 1886; “The Divine Plan of the Ages”, pg. 13
Neither must you lean upon the DAWN and the TOWER as infallible teachers. If it was proper for the early Christians to prove what they received from the apostles, who were and who claimed to be inspired, how much more important it is that you fully satisfy yourself that these teachings keep closely within their outline instructions and those of our Lord;–since their author claims no inspiration, but merely the guidance of the Lord, as one used of him in feeding his flock.
Indeed, time and again I have seen that the teachings of those who make utterances of their own, but in the name of Christ, by claimed inspiration, or special revelations, or boasted wisdom (which is the real spirit of popery), and without proof from the Scripture, are received by many. And I am confident that the DAWN and TOWER would have many more friends and believers if they followed this (popery’s) course;–for as some one has said, “People prefer to be humbugged.” But such a course I dare not follow; I must be true to the Lord and declare his Word, and let him take charge of the consequences. -1893; letter written by Pastor Russell, published in “The Watch Tower”, June, 1893 pg. 168
The account [of Matthew 24:45-51] contains no suggestion of either the inspiration or infallibility of “that servant.” This distinction belongs only to the Lord, the Apostles and the prophets…. There certainly is no intimation that the “household” is cut off from access to, or feeding on, the Word of God; neither by “that servant” nor by “his fellow servants.” None of the “servants” are to come between the “household” of faith and God’s Word. On the contrary, each one of the “household” is to prove all that he accepts as spiritual food, whether he gets it from the Bible himself or from “that servant” or from “his fellow servants.” None of these servants are “lords over God’s heritage”; their highest privilege will be to serve, and the only difference between “that servant” and “his fellow servants” will be that his service will be more general, a wider service.
More perhaps than any other servant, ZION’S WATCH TOWER has opposed the thought that the Church of Christ is composed of a clerical class commissioned to teach, and a lay class not commissioned to teach the divine Word: it specially has held up the inspired words, “all ye are brethren” and “one is your Master”; and has pointed out that all consecrated believers are of the “royal priesthood” each fully commissioned, not to “lord it” over others, but to sacrifice himself in the service of the truth, doing good unto all, especially to the household of faith. So with the servants of Matt. 24:49; service is their only commission, not lordship or self-appointment. All the members of the “body” are “anointed to preach” the gospel, and instructed to search the Scriptures, as we have heretofore clearly shown. This has been true ever since Pentecost, and is as true as ever to-day. — Zion’s Watch Tower, June 15, 1896, pages 139,140
We claim no infallibility for our presentations, nor do we simply offer our opinions and conjectures, after the manner of the scribes and Pharisees; but rather after the manner of the great Teacher, we seek to present to the minds of those interested the teachings of Moses and the prophets, and to voice the testimony of Jesus and the apostles, and to show the harmony of the Scriptures. — Zion’s Watch Tower, April 15, 1901, page 136
“We preach not ourself but Christ. We substantiate nothing except by his Word. We make no laws, formulate no creed, deprive no sheep of his full liberty in Christ; but merely on every question quote the Word of the Lord, through the apostles and prophets. We boast nothing, claim nothing of ourself. We are content to serve the Lord and his flock to the best of our ability–exacting no tithes, no “honor of men,” no confession of authority, no compensation; hoping merely for the love of the Lord and of those who are his children and have his Spirit. So far from forming or desiring to form a new sect, we ignore all sectarian systems and their claimed authority; we recognize only the “one Lord, one Faith and one Baptism” of the Scriptures and fellowship as a “brother” every person of decent morals who confesses faith in the “redemption through the blood of Christ,” and especially all of this class who profess a full consecration to the Lord’s will and service,– whatever sect they may be in, or outside of all” -1906; “The Watch Tower”, January 1, 1906 pg. 20
I hasten to assure you that I have never laid claim to infallibility. I do not expect to be infallible until by the Lord’s grace I shall share a part in the First Resurrection; then, that which is perfect having come, that which is in part shall be done away; we shall see as we are seen and know as we are known. We accept the writings by the twelve apostles as being so supervised of the Lord as to be free from any error. He himself said of the writers, the apostles, Whatsoever ye shall bind, enforce, on earth will be that which is recognized as bound or enforced in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose or release from on earth shall be loosed or released from in heaven. Hence we may regard the presentations of those twelve men, intended of the Lord to be his special representatives under the holy Spirit’s dispensation, as being infallible, true, inerrant. But there is no ground for believing that any others than the apostles have been so miraculously holden by the power of God as were those twelve, or that we have any authority in the Word of God for considering the words and writings of others as being above or beyond testing and proving by the Scriptures. This has invariably been our presentation. It has been our endeavor to present the Word of God faithfully as he has given us to understand it–to our own Master we stand or fall. Nevertheless we trust that our course has the approval also of such of the Lord’s dear people as, led by his Spirit, are now walking in the light of present truth. — Watch Tower, March 15, 1906, page 90.
We have urged and still urge that the dear children of God read studiously what we have presented;–the Scriptures, the applications and interpretations–and then form their own judgments. We neither urge nor insist upon our views as infallible, nor do we smite or abuse those who disagree; but regard as “Brethren” all sanctified believers in the precious blood. — Zion’s Watch Tower, October 1, 1907, page 294.
We try to be careful about every word that goes into the Watch Tower, but we do not claim to be infallible; we are doing the best we can. (What Pastor Russell Said, Q56:1, 1910)
The Scriptures do indeed say that we may render honor to him to whom honor is due, and that is applicable to anybody and everybody; as, for instance, we look back and we see Martin Luther, and he did a grand work, and we thank God for him; and we might say the same of John Wesley, and very truthfully; I am glad in God’s providence he lived, and that he was a faithful man. And there were others of the Lord’s people in the past. Let us be glad and rejoice in every one, and be thankful to God he has used various agencies in helping us, and in helping others, and in bringing forward his great cause; but let us not go into anything that would be at all like man-worship, for I am sure that would be displeasing to the Lord and injurious to ourslves. I remind you again of the Scripture in Revelations where the Church is pictured, which we called attention to, I believe, thirty years ago. John, the revelator, who was seeing these things, fell down to worship the angel who showed them to him, and the angel said, “See thou do it not; worship God; I am thy fellowservant.”
And so, dear friends, if our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Lord have used Brother Russell in any measure he is very glad and very thankful to be used. And if the Lord is pleased to use him any more, he will be glad to be used down to the last breath, but he does not want any worship, he does not want any undue adoration, he does not want any praise. He is glad to have the love of all those who are brethren of the Lord and to be considered a fellow-servant with all, striving to bring to pass all the glorious things that God has promised, striving to tell the good tidings of great joy to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” -1910; Convention Discourse (“Convention Report Sermons”, pg. 125)
Some people try to make out that I claim I am infallible, and know everything. You are all witnesses that that is not true. — 1911, What Pastor Russell Said, Question 14:1.
We are expecting in October, 1914, that a great change will be due. Now, how quickly will it come? Whether on the stroke of the clock or not we do not know. We believe that it will land upon humanity by that time. Perhaps some of it will come before that, but we believe it will be stayed off until that time. Now, dear friends, what if it does not? We are just as well off as the rest. That is what the Bible states. If it does not state that to you, we have no quarrel. And if it does not come we will not try to bring it about. But, on the contrary, we will try to practice peace and holiness withal. We are children of peace and peacemakers, not strife breeders. But we believe the Bible teaches October, 1914, as the time. If that is incorrect for a year, or five, or one hundred years, no matter, it is coming some time, whether we have it right or not. — 1912, Convention Sermon Reports, page 292
If we have made some mistake in the time, it will not matter a bit; we are consecrated to Him unto death. Perhaps the Lord will test us along this line. But I should not mind; I tell you that I am enjoying the Lord, and enjoying the previous Word more and more every day, and if it gets still better by 1914, I don’t know how good it will be. So that, whether we have the exact moment is very immaterial to us; it is quite a secondary matter. But there is no doubt at all that the Kingdom will come–whether in that year, or another year–it is sure to come, “For the Lord of Hosts hath spoken it, and who shall disannul it”? — 1912, Convention Sermon Reports, page 439
We do not claim that we have any infallibility in regard to the matter and our consecration was not made until 1914; our consecration was made until death, and if in the Lord’s providence I shall live longer then the Lord be praised and then I can rejoice just as much in 1916 as 1925, rejoice as much as in this present moment and I shall anticipate that under the Lord’s providence His grace will be more abundant as the years go by and that my joy in the Lord will go on increasing to the very end, but now, so far as we know, it looks from the Scriptures as though a very little while, three years, and less, and we will be in the kingdom. There may be things about it we do not understand and we have no desire to be dogmatic in any sense of the word and do anything rash, but we are trying to learn to appreciate the value of the present things and also the value of the things to come. We are trying to learn to take such a view as Paul did when he said, “I count all these things as loss and dross that I may win Christ and be found in Him”–in the anointed–membership in the Body of that Great Mediator. If He might win that, all other things of the present time might go and this is what is coming more and more into your heart and we are getting more and more lifted out of the selfishness of the world and we are looking beyond to the heavenly things. — 1912, Convention Reports Sermons, page 328
Did Russell demand that others had to agree with his conclusions?
No, unlike the JW leadership, Russell allowed others to disagree with his conclusions. He did not present his conclusions, especially as regards to Bible chronology and time prophecies, as being dogma that had to be accepted by anyone who wished to be associated with the Bible Students. Indeed, his vision who is accepted as a brother in Christ was very broad, as can be seen by his statements:
The Apostle John shows us that this matter of distinguishing as between brethren that are to be esteemed and brethren that are to be warned, appertains not merely to conduct but also to doctrinal matters. Yet we may be sure that he does not mean that we are to disfellowship a brother merely because of some differences of view on non-essential questions. We may be sure that he does mean his words to apply strictly and only to the fundamentals of the doctrine of Christ: for instance, faith in God; faith in Jesus as our Redeemer; faith in the promises of the divine Word. [italics added] These will be marks of a “brother,” if supported by Christian conduct, walking after the spirit of the truth;–even tho the brother might have other views which would differ from ours in respect to certain features of the plan of God not so clearly and specifically set forth in the Scriptures. But for those whom we recognize as being doctrinally astray from the foundation principles of Christ, the Apostle intimates that very drastic measures are appropriate;–not persecutions, nor railing; not bitter and acrimonious disputes; not hatred, either open or secret; but a proper showing of our disfellowship with the false doctrines held and taught by them; a proper protection, so that our influence shall not be in any manner or degree used to uphold his denial of the fundamentals of the Gospel. This drastic course is outlined by the Apostle in these words: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine [confessing Christ to have come into the world, in the flesh, to redeem our race, etc.] receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” –2 John 10,11. — Watch Tower, July 1, 1902, page 199.
We hold that nothing in these quotations declares the infallibility of the theories we suggested respecting 1914. In these statements, and in all of our statements, we have merely informed our readers respecting our views and the processes of our reasoning on the Scriptures which we have brought to their attention. Thus we have asked each reader to think and judge for himself, and to agree or disagree with us according to his own judgment of the facts.
Notice that in the above quotations no dogmatic statement is made, but that the reader is requested to use his own intellect. For instance, note the words, “bear in mind”; again, “while we proceed to examine the evidence”; again the reference to “Bible evidence.” In the last sentence the author sums up his own views, declaring what he considers to be the truth established by the evidences which he sets before his readers.
In this respect we believe that THE WATCH TOWER presentations differ considerably from others. We state with positiveness the opinions of the writer and the reasons therefor, but leave the final decision with each head and heart in all matters, without attempting more. — Watch Tower, Novemeber 15, 1913, page 344.
Unity of faith is desirable; it is to be striven for–yet not the kind of unity that is generally aimed at. Unity is to be along the lines of “the faith once delivered unto the saints” in its purity and simplicity, and with full liberty to each member to take different views of minor points, and with no instruction whatever in respect to human speculations, theories, etc. The Scriptural idea of unity is upon the foundation principles of the Gospel. (1) Our redemption through the precious blood, and our justification by demonstrated faith therein. (2) Our sanctification, setting apart to the Lord, the Truth and their service–including the service of the brethren. (3) Aside from these essentials, upon which unity must be demanded, there can be no Scriptural fellowship; upon every other point fullest liberty is to be accorded, with, however, a desire to see, and to help others to see, the divine plan in its every feature and detail. Thus each member of the body of Christ, maintaining his own personal liberty, is so thoroughly devoted to the Head and to all the members that it will be his pleasure to lay down all, even life itself, on their behalf. — The New Creation, page 240.
I disclaim any special inspiration. In some particulars my views agree with those of other Bible students, and in other respects they disagree. Each hearer must use his own judgment, do his own Bible study, and reach his own conclusions. — St. Paul Enterprise, November 21, 1916
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