Saturday, June 23, 2018

Did Russell Predict that Christ Was to Return in 1874?

The question may appear odd to some, but many people on the WEB have been making claims that Brother Russell had predicted that Christ would return in 1874. For him to have predicted Christ’s return in 1874 would mean that Russell, sometime before 1874, had made such a prediction. On one site, we find the false claim that Russell predicted “the return of Jesus to occur in 1874, and after this date reinterpreted the prediction to say that Jesus had indeed returned in invisible form.”

On another site, we find the statement, most of which is false:
Russell began a series of Bible studies and started to gather followers. Russell agreed with the Adventists’ predictions that Christ would return during 1873—1874. When that did not happen, Russell predicted more times for Jesus’ return-all of which proved to be false, of course.
Russell did begin some Bible studies with friends and family. There is no record that he considered any of these to be his followers, however. Some time around 1876, the group did elect Russell to be their pastor.

Examination of his own writings, however, reveal that before 1874 Russell never held to any conviction that Christ was to return in 1874, thus, he could not have predicted any such return for 1874. We know that Russell, in 1876, accepted that Christ had returned in 1874, but he did not, before 1874, have any expectations that Christ would return in 1874. Nor did he, as many have falsely stated, ever present any other date than 1874 for Christ’s return. Nevertheless, according to Russell’s own statements, he was not expecting, before 1874, that Christ would return in 1874. There is definitely nothing in any of his known published writings wherein we find that he was claiming such before 1874. (Indeed, Russell had no published works at all before 1874) There were some Adventists who were expecting, before 1874, that Christ would return at that date, but Russell was not one of them.

Russell plainly stated that up until 1876, he had no interest in the dates set forth by the various Adventists. Russell stated:

The Lord gave us many helps in the study of His word, among whom stood prominently, our dearly beloved and aged brother, George Storrs, who, both by word and pen, gave us much assistance; but we ever sought not to be followers of men, however good or wise, but “Followers of God, as dear children.” (Ephesians 5:1) Thus growing in grace and knowledge for seven years, the year 1876 found us. — 2 Peter 3:18.
Up to this time [1876] we persistently ignored time and looked with pity upon Mr. Thurman’s and Mr. Wendel’s ideas. (The latter was preaching the same time as Bro. Barbour; viz: The burning of the world in 1873.) We regarded those ideas as unworthy of consideration, for though we believed the event “nigh even at the doors,” yet we recognized the fact that the church will be withdrawn — translated — before there would be any open manifestation to the world, or, in other words, the two stages of Christ’s second advent, viz: coming for his saints, and coming with all his saints. — Mark 13:29.
About this time [1876] I received a copy of the “Herald of the Morning,” Bro. B. was its publisher; I read with interest how he and others had been looking for (to use his own expression) “a bonfire”; how scriptural arguments pointed to the autumn of 1874 as the time it was due; how that as the disappointment connected therewith began to abate, he and others had re-examined the scriptural proofs that appeared to teach that the end of the world was due at the time supposed; how clear and firm all those proofs still seemed; etc.; how that then, they began to examine what was due to take place at the end, and found that instead of a bonfire, scripture taught that “The harvest is the end of the world” (or age), and that though the age ended, the earth remained and a new age unfolded in which “All the families of the earth shall be blest.” — Matthew 13:39; Genesis 12:3.

Russell states how, around 1876, he became interested in the year 1874 as the date of Christ’s return, but this was about two years after 1874 had already passed. Thus, he had certainly not been proclaiming any return of Christ before 1874.

Most of these people who write about Russell often claim to be “exposing” Russell and/or presenting facts, and yet much they present is simply out of someone’s imagination and/or distortion of facts. Here are some more of the erroneous statements that we can find:
He initially predicted that Jesus Christ would return in 1874, but later he changed the date to 1914.
As already stated, no one produced anything on record in which he ever changed the return of Christ from 1874 to 1914, or any other date.

A similar claim may be found on another website:
Early within his ministry, Russell calculated that Jesus was to return visibly in 1874. When the 1874 came and went with no sign of Jesus, Russell then changed his calculations to the date 1914.
Since, according to Russell’s statements, he was not expecting, before 1874, for Christ to return in 1874, Russell never predicted such. However, the second part is also untrue, since Russell never “later … changed the date to 1914”; nor did he “change … his calculations to the date 1914”. Russell continued to believe that Christ had returned in 1874 until his death in 1916. He never changed the date of Christ’s return from 1874 to 1914, or any other date. This can be seen from many statements, but we present a quote of Russell from 1914:

Russell did, in 1876, accept Barbour's conclusion that Christ had returned in 1874, and also that the Gentile Times were to end in 1914. Russell continued to hold to both conclusions until his death in 1916,

While there is an abundance of proof throughout Russell's writings that he did not change Christ's return in 1914, let us examine one from the year 1914 itself:
The Scriptures teach us that there is a time for the Parousia, or Presence of the Lord. That time, as far as we are able to calculate, began in 1874. Since that date we have been living in the Parousia of the Son of Man. — Watch Tower, November 1, 1914, page 326
As one should see, in the year 1914, Russell still believed that Christ had returned in 1874, and he still held to his calculation of 1874 as being when Christ returned. He had not “changed the date to 1914”, or any other date.

We read on another site:

He briefly left the church, until age 18, when he attended a presentation by the Adventist preacher Jonas Wendell. During this presentation, Wendell used the extensive calculations of William Miller to prove that the scriptures revealed Jesus Christ would return to Earth between 1873 and 1874. Because Wendell used logic to prove this theory, Russell felt comfortable believing him. Thus, Russell’s faith was restored in Christianity. In 1870, Russell and his friends formed a Bible study group in Pittsburgh to discuss the problems they had discovered in the Bible and the issues they had with Christianity. The study group was also joined by Adventist pastors George Storrs and George Stetson, who shaped some of Russell’s early beliefs about immortality and resurrection. After extensively studying the Bible, Russell believed he had found errors, and thus achieved a better understanding of the Christian religion. Unfortunately, Jesus Christ did not appear as predicted between 1873 and 1874. This, however, did not disappoint Russell. He believed that Jesus Christ did not appear visibly, but that his invisible presence had come as scheduled. Russell published his own book, The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return, which described this viewpoint. 59,000 copies of the book were distributed. While on a business trip to Philadelphia in 1876, Russell read a copy of the magazine Herald of the Morning, published in Rochester, New York, by Nelson H. Barbour, an independent Adventist preacher. The journal spoke of the same things that Russell had been discussing with his Bible study group. Russell met with Barbour and left the meeting convinced that the physical return of Jesus Christ would occur in April 1878. He immediately sold his five clothing stores worth $300,000 in order to devote the next two years preparing for the return of Jesus Christ. Russell used his money to publish Barbour’s book Three Worlds or Plan of Redemption, which stated their idea that a 40-year harvest of souls had begun in 1874 with the invisible return of Jesus Christ. It would end in 1914 with the end of the Age of the Gentiles and the coming of God’s Kingdom. April of 1878 came and went without the return of Jesus Christ. Barbour could not get over his embarrassment and even renounced some of the views he and Russell had once shared. 

The author evidently assumes that Russell had been expecting Christ to return in 1873 or 1874; as we have already demonstrated, before 1874, Russell did not believe in any of the dates being set forth by the Adventists. We do not know what Jonas Wendell spoke about when Russell attended one of his meetings around 1869. We do know that Russell did not, at that time, accept Wendell's views concerning 1873. Russell said of this, "I was not a convert, either to the time he suggested nor to the events he predicted. I, in company with others in Pittsburgh, organized and maintained a bible class for the searching of the Scriptures, meeting every Sunday." However, he had, about 1872, about two years before 1874, concluded that since Christ had sacrificed his flesh for our sins, that Jesus would not return in the flesh, but in the spirit. He did not, however, before 1874, set any date for Christ's return. Nevertheless, before 1874 had arrived, Russell had already concluded that Christ’s return would be spiritual, not in the flesh. This belief was one of the things that led Russell to note Barbour’s similar belief in 1876. But it was not until 1876, two years after 1874, that Russell accepted Barbour’s conclusion that Christ had returned in 1874.

The author makes it appear that Russell published the book, The Object and Manner of Lord's Return, before he met with Barbour in 1876. This is in error, since he published that book about a year after he met with Barbour. The book, however, says nothing about 1874 or 1878; it is mostly declaring the result of Jesus' sacrifice as related to Christ's return. He does, in that booklet, explain his understanding that Christ, having sacrificed his body of flesh, was not raised in flesh, but in this spirit. Thus his return is in the spirit, not in the flesh.

We know of nothing, however, wherein either Russell or Barbour spoke  of Christ's physical return in 1878. Such an idea would have actually been contrary to what Russell believed.


A Pocket Guide to Sects and New Religions, by Nigel Scotland, 2005, page 118:

As the Campbellites, Millerites and Adventists and others had done, Russell predicted the date of Christ’s return. His first date of 1874 failed to materialize and was advanced to 1878. Disappointment inevitably followed and Russell began to teach that Jesus had in fact returned in 1874, but invisibly, and the elect would be taken to heaven in 1914.

As we have shown, Russell never, before 1874, predicted any date for Christ's return, nor did ever present 1878 as a date for Christ's return. In 1876, Russell accepted Barbour's conclusion that Christ had already returned in 1874, and he died in 1916, still holding to the belief that Christ had returned in 1874.

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