REVIVAL is an excerpt from the booklet, “When Pastor Russell Died.” It gives a first-hand account of those difficult years in the Bible Student movement, following October 31, 1916.

Norman Woodworth, its author, in recalling the perplexing events of that time, focuses in on the positive aspects relating to the gathering and testing of the church in this harvest time of the Gospel Age. His descriptions capture the spirit of freedom, love for the truth and its promulgation, and the desire to serve the brethren, which gave birth to the Dawn in the year 1932. During the forty years of Norman Woodworth’s editorship, these motivating principles never changed, and remain a guiding light for our continued service today.

ONE could suppose, when noting what occurred among Bible Students when Pastor Russell died, that despite the vast scope of the harvest conducted under his supervision, made possible by the marvelous spirit of zeal and self-sacrifice which consumed him and the brethren generally during that period, it had failed of lasting results. But this would be an incorrect viewpoint. Time is an important element in God’s arrangements. What we see today may not be true of tomorrow. God changes not, but in developing and testing his people he permits them to pass through varying experiences in order that their faith might be tested and their determination to serve him faithfully, crystallized.

The years following Brother Russell’s death have been a period of special testing. It has been a fiery furnace for all the Lord’s people, and we should be careful not to misjudge any of the brethren upon the basis of their temporary reactions to the flames. The great test upon all has been their loyalty to God and to the truth and its spirit, apart from human leadership. Brother Russell was not only “that servant” of God but he was a noble, good man, whom we all loved and upon whom we leaned. But God wants us to lean upon him, and to be faithful individually in doing his work. Through the truth he called us out of nominal churchianity—Babylon—and through these years he has been putting us through the fiery furnace of trial in order that all the cords of bondage might be burned away to set us entirely free from human leadership, that we may be bound only to our Lord and one another by the cords of love and devotion to the doing of his will.

With the exception of those who have departed from the truth to the extent of denying its great fundamentals, all the brethren during these years of trial have remained in the truth. They have been proud to be called ‘truth people’. But in the hearts of most of them has been a realization that something was lacking in their Christian experience, that something else died with Pastor Russell. No substitute program could take the place of this loss, and they would not be satisfied until the real thing was restored.

Yes, they knew what it was! They had learned the lesson well that being a Christian is more than merely the acceptance of God’s grace for our personal salvation and satisfaction. The same lesson was learned by the disciples at the very beginning of the age. Even before Jesus died he sent out the twelve into the ministry, and later he sent out the seventy. When the women found the empty tomb, the symbol that he was no longer dead, they were bidden to go tell the news to others. When Jesus met with his disciples shortly before he returned to heaven, he told them to tarry at Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high, and then they were to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

If we could imagine those who went early to the tomb simply being told that Jesus had been raised from the dead and then instructed to go home and say or do nothing about it, or if we could think of Peter and the other disciples receiving similar instructions, or if Jesus had told his disciples to continue tarrying at Jerusalem until they had lived out their natural span of life and died in inactivity, then we could at the same time imagine somewhat the feelings of many of the Lord’s people during these years of trial since Brother Russell died. With the exception of the effort which led brethren into activity to preach other than the truth in its purity, the friends generally had been left to suppose that the height of Christian experience, the end of all that the truth should mean to them, was to tarry until they were called home to be with Jesus in the kingdom.

But the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. It reached the Lord’s people at this end of the age through the medium of present truth. The death of a great leader might, and did result in consternation among the brethren; but it did not drive the Holy Spirit from their hearts—at least, not from the hearts of all. It remained! The spirit of truth and of love continued to burn, and to thousands of the brethren the world over it continued to say throughout all the uncertain years, “Go and tell,” “Go ye into all the world.” They became weary with forebearing; they were perhaps inclined to ‘tarry’ for a while but realized that continued inactivity was vitiating their spiritual lives.

This was the individual experience of brethren in all groups. While there was intense activity in some quarters, the truth was being changed, and many who loved the truth found themselves sitting on the sidelines, unable to cooperate. Individuals in other groups were being prompted by the Holy Spirit in their hearts to realize that something should be done that wasn’t being done. It was not a concerted, organized demand but the spontaneous revival in the hearts of individuals of that spirit of love toward others which characterized the truth movement during the lifetime of Brother Russell.

About this time brethren began to leave the original organization in larger numbers than previously. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a sufficient number left at one time to form an ecclesia. Soon thereafter, in October 1929, this ecclesia arranged to hold a convention; and interestingly, this convention was held in the old Bible House Chapel where Brother Russell had carried on the ministry of the truth for so long a time.

The following October another convention was held in the same place. The desire of the brethren concerning the ministry of the truth began to make itself felt at this second convention. A business meeting was called, much against the wishes of a minority, who, sad to report, wanted the brethren to continue ‘tarrying’, forgetting that the Spirit had been given nineteen centuries ago! At this meeting a committee was appointed to investigate the possibilities of what could be done to assist the brethren in giving a wider witness for the truth and to build one another up in the most holy faith.

The following winter, brethren in the New York district expressed their desire to go and tell the truth to others. This was done through the Brooklyn ecclesia, a class that had been formed in 1918 and which had remained loyal to the truth throughout all the years that followed. Realizing that the radio, a new means of disseminating knowledge which had come into being since Brother Russell died, was available for use, a radio committee was formed, comprised of the thirteen elders of the ecclesia, and programs were prepared and broadcast over one of New York’s most powerful stations.

The effect upon the friends was electrifying. Brethren sitting on the sidelines heard the programs and rejoiced. Many of these began to cooperate. By reason of opposition to the effort on the part of some, and in the Lord’s providence, we believe, the matter was brought to the attention of brethren throughout the entire country, and even in Great Britain and Australia. Those still holding to the truth rejoiced.

The radio work as of that time, 1932, proved to be too expensive to be continued, although, in addition to the New York broadcasts, a few transcribed programs were made and these were used on a limited number of stations elsewhere in the country. Evidently, in the Lord’s providence, its principal purpose was to serve as a signal to the brethren that the time had come to cease tarrying, that there was something for willing hands to do.

This radio effort called for the publication of suitable literature to follow up the interest; and, while the radio work itself did not continue at that time, there could be no question about the desire of brethren the country over that the publication of literature be maintained. This was done. The weekly “Radio Echo,” designed to follow up the programs, was enlarged and made a monthly magazine. It was called The Dawn, in keeping with the original Millennial Dawn literature and because of a deep conviction that we are living in the dawn preceding the millennium. The Dawn did not assume leadership of the friends but sought merely to render assistance where and when invited by individual brethren and ecciesias. The Dawn insists that God’s voice in the church is heard through the local ecclesias.

As the years went on and as the Lord pointed the way, Tabernacle Shadows, the Daily Heavenly Manna, Hymns of Millennial Dawn, and Studies in the Scriptures were republished. Booklets and tracts were published and widely distributed. New interest in the truth developed, and there was a general awakening among the Lord’s people as their hearts responded to the theme which had laid nearly dormant so long. Once more they rejoiced in that concept of the truth embodied in the Master’s command, “Go and tell.”

Love for the brethren increased, and they desired more and more to be together. Local and general conventions began to be the order of the day. On occasions The Dawn was used to announce as many as twenty-five such conventions in a single issue. This gathering together of the friends had further stirred them up in the old-time enthusiasm for the truth and its service. “This is just as it was in Brother Russell’s time,” was the remark made over and over again by thousands of the brethren as they met one another at these various conventions. And they were right!

In 1940, through the urging of a number of brethren, it was decided to try the radio work again. Those who had the matter in hand were frankly skeptical of the ability of the friends to carry on such an effort. But a start was made, to the joy and surprise of all the brethren. Now practically all the United States and Canada are being reached weekly with the kingdom message of truth. Parts of Europe and Asia are now being served this way, as are also Central and South America, Africa and various islands.


Some ask what is being accomplished by such a wide witness of the truth. Even those of us who are rejoicing in the general revival of activity in proclaiming the message are also interested to know the results of our efforts. Results, of course, should not enter into the matter of doing what the Lord has asked us to do. It would not have been in keeping with the spirit of the occasion for the women at the tomb to have replied to Jesus that even if they did tell the disciples of his resurrection, Thomas would not believe. The instructions were, “Go and tell.”

And so it is with us today. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to know that there are results. One of the important results has been among the brethren themselves. The radio, television and other witness work have reached many of the consecrated who had long been separated from the brethren. They hear or read the message and recognize it as the old time truth which they loved so long and almost lost, and their hearts rejoice. Through the handling of great fundamentals of the divine plan for the benefit of those who are not in the truth, the brethren have relearned the real value and beauty of the truth. This has helped to promote the spirit of unity among them—not a unity of nonessentials, nor around human leadership—but a unity of the Spirit, the Spirit of the truth.

And there is also new interest! There are not thousands coming into the truth, but some are; and larger numbers are rejoicing in a partial knowledge of it, while millions are receiving a witness. In the very thought of this the brethren as a whole rejoice. They feel that the truth is again much more to them than merely a better religion than that possessed by their neighbors. They feel that they are having a part in a work which the Lord approves, because it is the same kind of work which he outlines in his Word and which was carried on so faithfully by Pastor Russell.

The Incentive

It is well that, at this point, we inquire concerning the incentive which within a period of years, has brought about the cooperative activities which we have just described. Did The Dawn come into being as a medium for the dissemination of new light? Were the friends stirred to action because something had been found and was being proclaimed through The Dawn? No!

The Lord’s consecrated people throughout the world are, as a whole, well satisfied with the truth as it was brought to them through the ministry of Brother Russell. The brethren directly responsible for what appears in The Dawn are well satisfied with the fundamentals of that truth. They have no new doctrines to proclaim and no new formula for Christian living.

No, the revival activity has not been due to the proclamation of a new divine plan. Certainly it has not been induced through fear of the second death; nor has it been, even in the remotest sense, a rallying around a new-found leader, or leaders. Rather, it has come about as a result of the operation of the Spirit of God in the hearts of his people as a whole, just as it was the Spirit of God in Brother Russell’s heart that impelled him to sell his business and devote himself to the publishing of the glorious message of truth. And it is the same Spirit which actuated the ‘truth people’ generally throughout the happy years when Brother Russell was with us.

The Work—What Is It?

What phase of God’s work is it that is now being done? Probably the reason this question looms large in importance to many brethren is the fact that the harvest work was supposed to end in 1914, or 1918. Logically, if the harvest work did end in either of those years, the dissemination of the truth now must represent another kind of work.

As far as the definite teachings of the Scriptures are concerned, there are just three main lines of work which are accomplished during the Gospel Age through the proclamation of the truth. These are the sowing of seed, the harvest, and a general witness to the world. In the general witness work there is involved the call to repentance. Of this Paul says, “God … now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) This call has gone out through the church and continues to do so. In connection with the sowing as well as the reaping, there is the building up and nourishing of those who come to the Lord. The entire commission of the church is outlined in Isaiah 61:1-3, where it is shown to include a ministry designed to reach and nourish Christians, as well as to give a message to the mourning ones of the world, and finally to “proclaim … the day of vengeance of our God.”

Proclaiming the day of vengeance comes under the head of general witness work, being merely an up-to-date application of the truth message to present world conditions, an explanation of the meaning of the “time of trouble.” God’s people are not commissioned to pronounce vengeance upon the world. We are not to smite the people. They are being smitten by the great time of trouble and are mourning because of it. Our privilege is to explain the cause of their mourning and thus to comfort them.

No New Work

There seems to be no need for supposing that now God must be doing a different kind of work. Certainly the general witness work is still appropriate—“This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt 24:14) The end has not yet fully come, so why shouldn’t we continue to preach? What the result of this witness may be is in the Lord’s hands. Our responsibility is to keep the message pure and to send it forth far and wide as opportunity and ability permit.

As long as some are still embracing the truth and making a consecration to the Lord, it means that the harvest work is not yet complete. We may call it a gleaning if we wish, but it is harvest work, nevertheless. It is to be expected that the number actually and actively embracing the truth and entering the narrow way will decrease with the passing years. At the same time, it is logical to suppose that some new consecrations will be made and accepted by the Lord during the closing years of the age.

What, then, is the present mission of the church? It is to proclaim the truth, to let our light shine. The church is still the light of the world—the only light the world has! It is not for us to hide our light under a bushel simply because we may not exactly know what will result from letting it shine. It is God who gives “the increase,” and we may also say in keeping with this thought that it is God who decides what the nature of that increase shall be. (I Cor. 3:6) It is for us to be faithful to our commission.—Matt. 28:29

Dawn Bible Students Association
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