Excerpts from the Reprints of the Original Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, pages 6001-6006, by Brother Menta Sturgeon (1867-1935):-
On Monday afternoon, October 16th, 1916 at 5 pm, Brother Russell left the Bethel home for the last time.
At the noon hour he informed the dearest family to him on earth that he expected to be absent from them for a short time, and expressed for them the hope that during his absence they might be happy and prosperous under the blessings of the Lord. He also said that he expected that he and the one accompanying him would enjoy themselves in the Lord’s service. Then, while he and the family stood at their places, he offered a solemn prayer, beginning with the words:
“O Lord, Thy promised grace impart, And fill each consecrated heart!”
Brother Russell afterwards, wrote out nine letters — giving instructions to various ones respecting their duties. At the appointed hour he went forth, never more to return, saying “goodbye” to the friends in the hall as he passed out and started for the station.
When the Lehigh Valley train pulled out of Jersey City at 6 pm, it carried away our precious Brother on his last pilgrim journey, which was to end in Heaven. Having held public meetings at Providence and Fall River the day previous, he was tired to start with, and consequently did not dictate on the train that evening, as was his custom. In fact, he retired earlier than usual, saying “Good-night” as he did so.
In the morning, in answer to the question as to how he rested, he gave his usual answer during his recent trips, “On both sides,” meaning, of course, that he changed sides frequently during the night.
He often told us of late that he scarcely slept at all, was awake every hour of the night, and thought pretty much day and night. He had the care of all the churches upon his heart, and his physical ailments would not permit much rest. He always ate sparingly, and would carefully note the effect of everything he ate or drank.
He had a beautiful way of making the one who traveled with him feel at ease, and not consider himself merely as a servant, by handing him enough money at the beginning of the journey to cover all his incidental expenses during the trip. He would then arrange that we pay each other’s expenses alternately; he paying all expenses for both one day, and his companion paying all expenses for both the next day, and so on during the entire trip.
DIFFICULTIES ON THE WAY
The wreckage of a freight train during the night had caused the delay, we were informed, and a detour of fifty miles would be necessary to enable us to reach our destination. There was no dining car on the train, and neither could we secure anything to eat on account of uncertainties. It was at this point that a box of peanut butter sandwiches, which had been given to us by a thoughtful friend in Brooklyn, came in just right…. It was at Chicago that his physical endurance was taxed to the limit. Circumstances made it necessary for us to walk several miles, until the writer was growing weary and was sure that Brother Russell must be worn out also, although no remarks of the kind passed between us. All of this occurred after a few hours’ rest during the previous night and with but little to eat.
How many times have I heard Pastor Russell ask people on the trains, in the stations, hotels, everywhere, “Are you consecrated?” He nearly always brought this in. He had many opportunities; for people recognized him everywhere and desired to speak or have a few words with him…Many a time people came to me on the train and inquired, “Is that not Pastor Russell?” and would say, “I knew him by his picture in the paper,” or “I heard him lecture at such and such a place.” Sometimes they would inquire just after he had walked through the train, “Who is that distinguished gentleman with you?” In this way we were able to send out many First Volumes and other printed matter of the Society.
At Kansas City on Thursday morning we encountered so many difficulties in purchasing tickets for the West that it became necessary that I make a trip up into the city through the rain, and with such delay that Brother Russell did here what we had never before known him to do; viz., run to catch a train. We are saying these things to show how different this trip was from anything that had ever preceded it, and how his trials increased as he proceeded on his journey.
We reached Wichita Thursday afternoon in time for an afternoon meeting; but it, with other work in Wichita, was more or less interfered with by the loss of Brother Russell’s valise.
BROTHER RUSSELL’S LAST MEAL
Traveling all night then and reaching the home of Sister Frost Tuesday morning, it was not surprising to find him in much physical pain. His labors were telling on him more than ever. His overworked body began to break at its weakest point. Cystitis was becoming acute. We secured various things for him that morning–in fact, everything he wished, and he seemed to know exactly what to get and do. He worked faithfully on his case all morning; and although we had gone to see a doctor who was somewhat interested in the Truth and who would gladly have called to see him, yet it was not his wish. He appreciated the kind offer, but indicated that he would not need a physician’s services.
Conditions were getting serious. Brother Russell signed a few letters we had written, gave us to understand that we were doing a more important work than we realized and then had us substitute for him at the 11 am meeting at the Hall. Sister Frost generously placed her car at our disposal, so that we could easily and quickly go to and fro. He went to dinner with us, talked pleasantly to everyone, and was as humorous as usual; but he ate nothing…After the meal we went upstairs together arm in arm to his room; and after talking for awhile, he asked us to take the consecration service at the Hall at 3 pm. This we did and returned immediately to his room.
HIS LAST PUBLIC DISCOURSE
The night was drawing on. I was seated on the low window sill close by his side, my hands rested upon his knee and my face was turned up toward his. Love like electricity was flowing from face to face and heart to heart. We talked in whispered tones; and he said during the quiet, lovely conversation, “Dear brother, please remain close tonight and be ready to pick up the thread of thought where I drop it.”
The evening lecture was given in the largest and best theater in San Antonio. It is indeed a beautiful structure. We have never seen a meeting more beautiful. The lecture on the subject of “The World on Fire” was begun under the most favorable conditions.
I was seated at his right, behind the screen, and could see every motion he made. All went well for about 45 minutes, when I thought I could see that he was going to leave the platform. Without any sign of suffering, with perfect self-poise, quietly did he walk off the rostrum, while I endeavored to walk on just as orderly and quietly, and, without a word of explanation, “picked up the thread where he had dropped it.” I continued for about five minutes…
EN ROUTE TO CALIFORNIA
It was just after leaving San Antonio that I had the privilege and pleasure of untying and removing his shoes for the first time. Hitherto he would not permit this, although I had several times made the offer; but now he acquiesced readily, and said, in his gracious manner, “Thank you!”
The next morning he was a sick man, although he was not ready to admit it. He kept to his bed all day Wednesday. While he lay there in his berth, I took a seat on the couch, near him. I watched every move he made, stroked his head, and thought what a stupendous amount of work that brain had done! Taking his soft, gentle right hand and letting it rest in the palm of my left hand, I gently stroked it with my right; and thinking of his lecture at San Antonio the previous night and of the many times I had seen him use that hand so graciously when exposing the errors of the creeds of men as contrasted with the Word of God, I said to him, “That is the greatest creed-smashing hand I ever saw!“ He replied that he did not think it would smash any more creeds.
This led me to inquire, “Who will smite the River Jordan?” To this he responded, “Someone else can do that.” “But how about the payment of the penny?” I asked. He hesitated for a moment and said, “I don’t know.” Brother Russell was evidently perplexed.
We then talked about his physical condition. What he said about his sufferings was this:
“I always thought I should have some severe sufferings before I finished my course, but thought when I had the trouble in Pittsburgh, that was it. But if the Lord wants to add this also, it is all right.”
DETAINED AT DEL RIO
We learned that a bridge ahead of us had been burned during the night and that we would likely be held up for some time….the weather was hot down there. But never one word of complaint did Brother Russell make.
The diner was three Pullmans ahead of us. Consequently we had to walk that distance for every little thing needed. After one full day’s delay we pulled out of Del Rio on Thursday morning, and were the first ones to pass over the rebuilt bridge. By that time we were over, whereupon we remarked, “Brother Russell, we have often heard you speak about the time when we shall pass over the river; and now, at last, we are over.” A sweet smile came over his face, but he said not a word. We began to think that he might pass over, but surely not very soon. It was October, and it occurred to us that as we were delayed one day before passing over the river in southern Texas, so he might tarry with us one prophetic day and pass over by October, 1917. With these thoughts running through our mind, we were doing our best to serve our dear, patient, uncomplaining, appreciative Brother Russell in every way we could.
All day Saturday, under severe pain, in great weakness, with obstructions piling up before him every moment, he struggled with business propositions like a giant. We have never seen or heard of anything to equal his heroism. Friends had disappointed him, and he wondered if the Lord were not against him in some things. His trials thickened and deepened. Not a murmur or complaint did he utter. He had promised the Lord that he would not, and he kept his promise. He was so great that I nearly always hesitated about drawing near to him.
TO LOS ANGELES
He would not yet admit that he was really sick. By 10 am we had reached the hotel, and I asked him if I could not get him something to eat. He said he was not hungry and asked me to suggest something…Upon bringing it to him, he asked if I had had my breakfast; and when I answered, no, he wanted to know why. I told him that it was because I wanted him to have his first. He said he would not eat his until I had first had my breakfast.
This was just like Brother Russell. He was always so considerate of others. Whenever he would ask me to do anything for him, he would say “Please”; and when it was done he would invariably say, “Thank you.”
BROTHER RUSSELL’S LAST ADDRESS TO THE CHURCH
He cautioned the brethren against exposing his physical condition by saying, “Don’t give me away, Brethren.”
You know that our dear Brother was so considerate of the feelings of others that he never drew much on the sympathy of the friends–so considerate was he, that but few knew that he had been a physical sufferer for thirty years.
On one occasion recently he sent word to the Bethel Family that he would not be down to breakfast; and afterwards he told me that it was on account of the family that he did not come–that they had such deep sympathy for him that he did not like to draw on their vitality. He had learned to lean on the Strong Arm alone! He did not need us particularly, but we needed him.
When he stepped to the front of the platform to begin to speak, out of consideration for the splendid audience before him he said, “I regret that I am not able to speak with force or power,” and then beckoned to the Chairman to remove the stand and bring a chair. As he sat down, he said, “Pardon me for sitting down, please.” In deep humility, in great suffering and in the most solemn manner, he spoke for about 45 minutes, and then answered questions for a short period.
THE RETURN JOURNEY BEGUN
He had me place various articles that he would need during the night in convenient places–under the covers, under his pillows, on the window-sills, so that he could reach them without disturbing me.
We were aroused from slumber by his knocking and calling us by name–it was probably a couple of hours. But we went to him quickly, did what was required, heard him say again “Thank you,” and again lay down. This time, however, we did so with the thought that we would not sleep so soundly. In another hour he knocked and called again; and we were at his side, and soon discovered that another chill was coming on. He had had his first one two nights before. We put five Pullman blankets upon him and tucked them in close on every side; but still he shook. We gave him what was required, and was glad when the rigors ceased. We remained by his side, lying down at times on the couch beside him.
PREPARATIONS FOR DEATH
… It was then that he stood again and said, “Please make me a Roman toga.” I said, “Brother Russell, I do not understand what you mean.” He said, “I will show you.” He had me take a clean sheet and turn it down twelve inches from the top; and then a second one the same. Placing his left hand on his right shoulder, he said, “Fasten them together here.” He stood erect before me for a moment without saying a word, then lay down on the couch on his back, closed his eyes, and lay there before me as in a shroud, a perfect picture of death.
The toga was worn by Roman officials and sometimes by priests, and sometimes symbolized victory and peace, and at other times that the one wearing it had fulfilled his vows. To the writer’s mind all these things are meant. He had fulfilled his vows! he had gained the victory! he was at peace! Thenceforth there was laid up for him a Crown of Righteousness, which the Lord would shortly place upon his noble brow.
CONCERNING THE SEVENTH VOLUME
…With thoughts of the end running through my mind, it was only natural for me to say to myself, Had you not better ask Brother Russell concerning some things? It was in this mood and in this connection that we inquired respecting the Seventh Volume (of “Studies In The Scriptures”), and received his answer, “Some one else can write that”…
… I was just about to sink into sleep when I thought I heard the words, “Brother Sturgeon.” As I came to him, the experiences of Samuel came into my mind. I leaned over him and said, “Brother Russell, did you call me?” He answered “Yes,” and gave me some little thing to do, after which I lay down the second time. Ere long I thought I heard my name called again. I inquired as before, bent over close to him and heard him whisper, “I am trying to find something for you to do.” From this I inferred, “Brother Russell wants me to stay awake tonight”; and it proved to be so.
DEATH DRAWING NEAR
I kept doing many little, necessary things in harmony with his words or signs until another chill (the third one) came on. I folded blanket after blanket over him, tucked them in close to him; but still he shook. I therefore lay on him and pressed my face to his until I felt the warmth returning to his body. The fact that this was the third chill in four nights deepened the impression in my mind that the end was drawing near.
About midnight a great change came over him. He no longer cared for any of his medicine, and did not even seem to thirst for water as heretofore. Some things almost ceased. His pain settled deeper in. He could no longer lie straight in bed as formerly….. When he could no longer make his wishes known by words, he would do so by signs. …I looked to the Lord, and steeled myself, saying, “I will stay with him to the finish.”
The most wonderful thing about this most wonderful man was that, during all his sufferings, trials, inconveniences and perplexities, he spoke not a word of complaint, he heaved not a sigh; he uttered not a moan; he shed not a tear. He had resolved that he would not murmur nor complain, and he kept his resolution to the end. He literally died in doing the Father’s will, and thus fulfilled his vow.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13)
The Author–Brother Menta Sturgeon (1867-1935)