Charges Against Charles Taze Russell

Are the charges in a tract against Jehovah’s Witnesses true that the Society’s first president was immoral, profiteered from selling some mysteriously named wheat at $65 a bushel, and committed perjury when asked in court if he could read Greek?

"Questions From Readers," The Watchtower, May 15, 1953, p. 319.
Copyright © 1953 Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

No. They were deliberate falsehoods. No immoral action was ever proved against the Watchtower Society’s first president, Charles Taze Russell. In a suit for separate maintenance Mrs. Russell’s attorney said, "We make no charge of adultery"; and Mrs. Russell, who went to all ends to discredit her husband (her main objection was that he would not let her control the Watchtower magazine’s policy), specifically said she did not accuse him of immorality. When critics who did not know him thought they could take portions of the trial and malign his good name, he swore: "I never was guilty of immorality toward any person… . Further, I have never desired to do so." Those who knew him personally highly respected his integrity. J. F. Rutherford, one who was sufficiently convinced of the importance of the Christian work Brother Russell did to likewise devote his life and funds to it, and who succeeded Russell as the Society’s president, said at Russell’s funeral: "Truly it can be said that Pastor Russell’s character was and is without blemish."

The facts about "Miracle Wheat" are equally perverted. Brother Russell was interested in anything related to the Scriptural prediction that the desert would blossom as a rose and the earth yield her increase. So, when the public press reported a new and unusual strain of wheat, called "Miracle Wheat" by its original grower, Brother Russell reported this in The Watchtower, along with a government report on it. Some Watchtower readers contacted the grower, who was in no way connected with the Watchtower Society, and purchased some of the wheat. When theirs produced seed they offered it as a contribution to the Society. The original grower sold the seed at $1.25 a pound, so they suggested their contribution be priced at $1.00, and all the money received be given to the Society. The Society made no claim for the wheat on its own knowledge, though it won several State Fair grand prizes before it wore itself out. Brother Russell neither named it nor profited from it; the money went as a donation into Christian missionary work. When others criticized this sale, all who had contributed were told that if they were dissatisfied their money would be returned, and the money was held for a year for this purpose. Not a single person requested it back. The only critics were those who had no real knowledge of the matter, which was purely a donation sale for the benefit of the Society—as open and aboveboard as a church cake sale.

The "perjury" charge was not made in court, but in a tract written later by an irresponsible slanderer against whom Brother Russell had brought a libel case. The official record of the case in question (Police Court of the City of Hamilton, Ontario, March 17, 1913) says: "Q. You don’t profess, then, to be schooled in the Latin language? A. No, sir. Q. Or in Greek? A. No, sir." After this he was asked if he knew individual Greek letters, and it was over this that the question of his knowledge of Greek arose. This false "perjury" claim has been repeated by many who never went to this Canadian city to check this old court record to see if they are spreading truth or a lie. Not only has the question they "quote" been reworded, but Brother Russell had specifically said that he did not know Greek.

The extent to which critics will deliberately falsify such quotations is shown in another tract that says Jehovah’s witnesses deny the ransom and tries to support this with a quotation from Volume 5, page 127, of the Studies in the Scriptures: "Jesus’ suffering would not pay the debt of sin." Here is what the book actually says: "True, the wages of sin was not suffering, but death; and hence suffering on our Lord’s part would not alone pay the wages of sin for us: it was absolutely necessary that he should ‘taste death for every man.’" The book says exactly the opposite of what the tract claims it says.

With such lies and perverted facts the critics condemn themselves. They would not like to be classed with the ultramodernists who accuse Jesus of being illegitimate, but they stoop equally low regarding other men whose lives were spent unselfishly in God’s service.

Additional Reading

Miracle Wheat (1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 70-1)
Clerics Lash Out! (1979 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 93-4)
Did he say 'leave the Bible unread'? ("Questions From Readers," The Watchtower, July 1, 1957, pp. 414-5.)

Miracle Wheat (YB article0

Miracle Wheat

1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 70-1.
Copyright © 1974 Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

Foes of C. T. Russell used not only his domestic affairs but other "weapons" against him. For instance, his enemies have charged that he sold a great quantity of ordinary wheat seed under the name of "Miracle Wheat" at one dollar per pound, or sixty dollars per bushel. They have held that from this Russell realized an enormous personal profit. However, these charges are absolutely false. What are the facts?

In 1904 Mr. K. B. Stoner noticed an unusual plant growing in his garden in Fincastle, Virginia. It turned out to be wheat of an uncommon kind. The plant had 142 stalks and each bore a head of fully matured wheat. In 1906 he named it "Miracle Wheat." Eventually others obtained and grew it, enjoying extraordinary yields. In fact, Miracle Wheat won prizes at several fairs. C. T. Russell was very interested in anything related to the Biblical predictions that "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" and "the earth shall yield her increase." (Isa. 35:1; Ezek. 34:27, AV) On November 23, 1907, H. A. Miller, Assistant Agriculturalist of the United States Government, filed in the Department of Agriculture a report commending this wheat grown by Mr. Stoner. Throughout the country the public press took note of the report. C. T. Russell’s attention was drawn to it, and so in Zion’s Watch Tower of March 15, 1908, on page 86, he published some press comments and extracts from the government report. Then, in conclusion, he commented: "If this account be but one-half true it testifies afresh to God’s ability to provide things needful for the ‘times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began.’—Acts 3:19-21."

Mr. Stoner was not a Bible Student or an associate of C. T. Russell, and neither were various other persons who experimented with Miracle Wheat. In 1911, however, Watch Tower readers J. A. Bohnet of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Samuel J. Fleming of Wabash, Indiana, presented to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society the aggregate of about thirty bushels of this wheat, proposing that it be sold for one dollar per pound and that all the proceeds be received by the Society as a donation from them, to be used in its religious work. The wheat was received and sent out by the Society and the gross receipts from it amounted to about $1,800. Russell himself did not get a penny of this money. He merely published a statement in The Watch Tower to the effect that the wheat had been contributed and could be obtained for a dollar a pound. The Society itself made no claim for the wheat on its own knowledge and the money received went as a donation into Christian missionary work. When others criticized this sale, all who had contributed were informed that if they were dissatisfied their money would be returned. In fact, the identical money received for the wheat was held for a year for that purpose. But not one person asked for a refund. The conduct of Brother Russell and the Society in connection with Miracle Wheat was completely open and aboveboard.

Because Charles Taze Russell taught the truth from God’s Word, he was hated and maligned, often by the religious clergy. But then, Christians of modern times expect such treatment, for Jesus and his apostles were dealt with similarly by religious opposers.—Luke 7:34.

Perjury (article0

Clerics Lash Out!

1979 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 93-4.
Copyright © 1978 Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

One of the earliest congregations of Jehovah’s people to be established in Canada was the one at Hamilton, Ontario. That strong, very active congregation naturally had the disapproval of the clergy. Not having any Biblical defense against the forceful thrusts of the truth, the clerics resorted to personal invective. They lashed out in a seemingly desperate attempt to destroy one man—C. T. Russell.

A clergyman who used this approach at Hamilton was a bombastic Baptist preacher named J. J. Ross. In 1912, he wrote a scurrilous pamphlet in which he made many false accusations against Russell. Acting on the advice of his legal counselor, J. F. Rutherford, Brother Russell laid a criminal charge of defamatory libel against Ross. As the complainant, Russell attended the trial to give evidence, and he submitted to a long cross-examination of roughly five hours. After the trial, his Baptist opponent falsely charged that Russell had committed perjury when asked about his knowledge of Greek. This "perjury" charge was published in Ross’ second pamphlet attacking Russell. In it the cleric misquoted what had been said in court, giving the cross-examiner’s question and Russell’s reply as follows:

Q. "Do you know the Greek?"

A. "Oh, yes."

By omitting the word "alphabet" from this question, Ross sought to establish an exact contradiction with a later question and answer:

Q. "Are you familiar with the Greek language?"

A. "No."

What really happened is clear from the official record (Police Court of the City of Hamilton, Ontario, March 17, 1913). It shows that C. T. Russell did not commit perjury. The cross-examination (by George Lynch-Staunton, K. C.) went as follows, according to the book Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, by M. James Penton:

"Question: ‘You don’t profess, then, to be schooled in the Latin language?’

Answer: ‘No, Sir.’

Question: ‘Or in Greek?’

Answer: ‘No, Sir.’"

After this, Russell was asked if he knew individual Greek letters, and he said that he "might make a mistake of some of them." According to the book just cited, shortly thereafter "Lynch-Staunton asked Russell the question: ‘Are you familiar with the Greek language?’ Russell’s reply was an emphatic ‘No.’"

So, there was no question about matters. C. T. Russell had not committed perjury as Ross falsely charged after the trial. The case itself later went before a grand jury, which declined to return a bill of indictment. So, the case never went on for trial before the Supreme Court of Ontario. Under legal practice in Ontario, only the crown attorney is allowed to speak before the grand jury. We do not know how the case was presented to it or what caused that body to reject it. No decision ever was rendered on the merits of the case. In his subsequent writings, Ross treated this inconclusive result as though he had won a great victory. He and others apparently chose to forget that Russell was not the man on trial.

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