Brother Rutherford had a severe case of pneumonia after his release from unjust imprisonment in 1919. Thereafter, he had only one good lung. In the 1920’s, under a doctor’s treatment, he went to San Diego, California, and the doctor urged him to spend as much time as possible there. From 1929 on, Brother Rutherford spent the winters working at a San Diego residence he had named Beth-Sarim. Beth-Sarim was built with funds that were a direct contribution for that purpose. The deed, which was published in full in “The Golden Age” of March 19, 1930, conveyed this property to J. F. Rutherford and thereafter to the Watch Tower Society.
Concerning Beth-Sarim, the book “Salvation,” published in 1939, explains: “The Hebrew words ‘Beth Sarim’ mean ‘House of the Princes’; and the purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth.”
A few years after Brother Rutherford’s death, the board of directors of the Watch Tower Society decided to sell Beth-Sarim. Why? “The Watchtower” of December 15, 1947, explained: “It had fully served its purpose and was now only serving as a monument quite expensive to keep; our faith in the return of the men of old time whom the King Christ Jesus will make princes in ALL the earth (not merely in California) is based, not upon that house Beth-Sarim, but upon God’s Word of promise.”
At the time, it was believed that faithful men of old times, such as Abraham, Joseph, and David, would be resurrected before the end of this system of things and would serve as “princes in all the earth,” in fulfillment of Psalm 45:16. This view was adjusted in 1950, when further study of the Scriptures indicated that those earthly forefathers of Jesus Christ would be resurrected after Armageddon.—See “The Watchtower,” November 1, 1950, pages 414-17.
Brother Rutherford was survived by his wife, Mary, and their son, Malcolm. Because Sister Rutherford had poor health and found the winters in New York (where the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters were located) difficult to endure, she and Malcolm had been residing in southern California, where the climate was better for her health. Sister Rutherford died December 17, 1962, at the age of 93. Notice of her death, appearing in the Monrovia, California, Daily News-Post, stated: “Until poor health confined her to her home, she took an active part in the ministerial work of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS
Additional Reading: http://pastorrussell.blogspot.com/2010/05/millions-now-living-will-never-die.html
CLOSING DAYS AT BETH-SARIM
By November Brother Rutherford’s critical illness had gained ground and he was compelled to have an operation at Elkhart, Indiana. Thereafter he expressed a desire to go to California. So he was taken to a San Diego residence known as “Beth-Sarim.” For some time it was apparent to his associates and the best medical experts that he could not recover.
Briefly it may be said that Brother Rutherford had a severe case of pneumonia after his release from unjust imprisonment during 1918-1919 because of his faithfulness to Jehovah. Thereafter he had only one good lung. It was virtually impossible for him to remain in Brooklyn, New York, during the winter and still carry out his duties as the Society’s president. In the 1920’s he went to San Diego under a doctor’s treatment. The climate there was exceptionally good and the doctor urged him to spend as much time as possible in San Diego. That is what Rutherford did ultimately.
In time, a direct contribution was made for the purpose of constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford’s use. It was not built at the expense of the Watch Tower Society. Concerning this property, the 1939 book Salvation stated: “At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim.”
Sister Hazel Burford was one of the nurses who cared for Brother Rutherford during his final illness at Beth-Sarim, where he was taken in November 1941. She tells us: “We had the interesting times, for he got to where he would sleep all day and then all night long he was busy with the Society’s business and kept us on the move.” One morning about the middle of December three brothers, including Brother Knorr, arrived from Brooklyn. Sister Burford recalls: “They spent several days with him going over the annual report for the Yearbook and other organizational matters. After their departure, Brother Rutherford continued to weaken and, about three weeks later, on Thursday, January 8, 1942, he faithfully finished his earthly course and graduated into fuller service privileges in the courts of his heavenly Father.” Later that day the news was sent to the Brooklyn headquarters by long-distance telephone at 5:15 p.m.
How was news of J. F. Rutherford’s death received at Brooklyn Bethel? “I will never forget the day we learned of Brother Rutherford’s passing,” comments William A. Elrod. “The announcement was brief. There were no speeches.”
- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS
HAYDEN COVINGTON ON THE DEATH OF BR. RUTHERFORD
He had no desire to be buried in any place but he had to. He knew he was dying and would have to be buried. He was sensible enough to know that he didn't want to have his bones hauled all the way back to Brooklyn. So he suggested to us that when the time came for him to be buried he wanted to be buried out there. We tried to get him buried there in the Beth Sarim property. That was a big property in behind there, went all the way down to Montezuma Road, and then Brother Heath had that big house over across the way that his mother had given him money to build. It would cost a half a million dollars to build and duplicate now, or more. We tried to get him buried at that property and the board in San Diego turned us down. They didn't want him buried anywhere out there, there was so much hostility and hatred against the Judge out there.
The authorities turned us down, every turn we took. I filed a lawsuit then in the courts out there in San Diego to force them to let us bury him out there on that property. Judge Mundo, who was the judge of the Superior Court, heard it and passed the buck, jumping from one thing to another, from one technicality to another, and finally after looking at the matter in a reasonable way Bill, Bonnie, and Nathan and all of us decided that we have fought enough on this and it looks like its the Lord's will that we take his body back to Brooklyn, and have him buried in Staten Island, which we did. So Bill and Bonnie were on the train with his body. And Fred, Nathan, and I had already come back and were working. I was trying to get his bones under the ground by legal mandate and we couldn't get it, and there was no other thing to do. And we did, and that ended that. He was laughing down from heaven at us scurrying around trying to get his bones buried.
- Interview with Watchtower Attorney Hayden Covington, Nov. 19, 1978, two days before his death. Also see the February 22, 1952 Awake, page 26 for the location of Rutherford's burial place: http://www.woodrowumc.org/
A FAITHFUL WITNESS
January 9, 1942
TO ALL LOVERS OF THE THEOCRACY:
On January 8, 1942, our beloved brother, J. F. Rutherford, faithfully finished his earthly course as a warrior for The THEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT and a minister of the Word of God. Knowing of your deep concern and of your prayers to God for him ever since his serious illness prior to the Detroit Convention of July, 1940, we hasten to notify you.
It was Brother Rutherford’s desire to “die fighting with his boots on”; and this he did. The Lord graciously spared him to complete the report of the 1942 Yearbook of Jehovah’s witnesses, therein showing that the greatest witness ever given had been accomplished and that the year’s distribution of books and booklets reached the grand total of 36,030,595 copies. He always had foremost in mind to DO THIS ONE THING, to declare the name of Jehovah and his kingdom, to keep covenant with Him, and to look well to the interests of his brethren.—1 John 3:16.
To him it was a joy and comfort to see and know that all the witnesses of the Lord are following, not any man, but the King Christ Jesus as their Leader, and that they will move on in the work in complete unity of action, as they unanimously expressed at the Theocratic Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in St. Louis.
All those standing steadfast for THE THEOCRACY will now not mourn or be disturbed or fearful, but will rejoice that their faithful fellow servant and brother has maintained his integrity toward the Lord, in sickness and in health, through evil report and through good report, and has now entered a higher field of service forever with the Lord.—2 Tim. 4 :7, 8.
Brother Rutherford’s consistent faithful activity and unbending devotion to THE THEOCRACY, especially since becoming president of the Society, January 6, 1917, has been and continues to be a true and blessed example to us all as of one who ‘fought a good fight and kept the faith’ and proved worthy of a part in the vindication of Jehovah’s name by Christ Jesus; and for this we give thanks to God.
With you keeping on working, determined, by the Lord’s grace, to let nothing stop us until the Lord’s “strange work” is finished, we are,
Your brethren and fellow servants,
WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY, INC.
Although Brother Rutherford served for 25 years as president of the Watch Tower Society and devoted all his energy to advancing the work of the organization, he was not the leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he did not want to be. At a convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1941, shortly before his death, he spoke about the matter of leadership, saying: “I want to let any strangers here know what you think about a man being your leader, so they won’t be forgetting. Every time something rises up and starts to grow, they say there is some man a leader who has a great following. If there is any person in this audience who thinks that I, this man standing here, is the leader of Jehovah’s witnesses, say Yes.” The response was an impressive silence, broken only by an emphatic “No” from several in the audience. The speaker continued: “If you who are here believe that I am just one of the servants of the Lord, and we are working shoulder to shoulder in unity, serving God and serving Christ, say Yes.” In unison the assembly roared out a decisive “Yes!” The following month an audience in England responded in exactly the same way. - Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS
Opposers of Jehovah's Witnesses have occasionally made references (most of the details being incorrect) to J. F. Rutherford and "Beth - Sarim" in an attempt to discredit the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. A look at the context and actual records would be beneficial:
The 1975 Year Book tells us that
"Brother Rutherford had a severe case of pneumonia after his release from unjust imprisonment during 1918-1919 because of his faithfulness to Jehovah. Thereafter he had only one good lung. It was virtually impossible for him to remain in Brooklyn, New York, during the winter and still carry out his duties as the Society's president. In the 1920's he went to San Diego under a doctor's treatment. The climate there was exceptionally good and the doctor urged him to spend as much time as possible in San Diego. That is what Rutherford did ultimately.
"In time, a direct contribution was made for the purpose of constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford's use. It was not built at the expense of the Watch Tower Society. Concerning this property, the 1939 book Salvation stated: `At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim.'" - p. 194.
By November of 1941 Brother Rutherford's condition compelled him to return to Beth-Sarim for his final illness. He died there January 8, 1942.
However, the Salvation book (written by Brother Rutherford) quoted above goes on to say:
"The Hebrew words `Beth Sarim' mean `House of the Princes'; and the purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in trust, to be used by the president of the Society and his assistants for the present, and thereafter to be for ever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes on the earth. .... and if and when the princes do return and some of them occupy the property, such will be a confirmation of the faith and hope that induced the building of Beth-Sarim." - p.311.
Apparently Brother Rutherford had earlier written that he expected the return of these princes in the year 1925. I don't have a copy of that, but I see no reason to doubt it. Note, however, that Beth-Sarim wasn't built until 1929. (This link is added to these comments for additional insight into the subject - http://pastorrussell.blogspot.com/2010/05/millions-now-living-will-never-die.html)
Money had been contributed for the specific purpose of "constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford's use" during his illnesses. The money, of course, could not be legally (or morally) used for any other purpose.
It's not surprising that in his book Brother Rutherford didn't care to detail these conditions which would have necessarily put his physical illnesses on public display. His decision to also dedicate this ground and building to those princes whom he truly expected to soon return is certainly understandable.
The fact that the princes did not return as soon as he expected was obvious even before Beth-Sarim was even built and certainly does not make Brother Rutherford a False Prophet. - http://defendingjehovahswitnesses.blogspot.com/2009/11/beth-sarim.html
Rutherford died at Beth Sarim on January 8, 1942 at the age of 72. After his death, Rutherford's burial was delayed for three and a half months due to legal proceedings arising from his desire to be buried at Beth Sarim, which he had previously expressed to three close advisers from Brooklyn headquarters. Watchtower attorney Hayden C. Covington explained his role in the lawsuit: "I filed a lawsuit then in the courts out there in San Diego to force them to let us bury him out there on that property. Judge Mundo, who was the judge of the Superior Court, heard it and passed the buck, jumping from one thing to another, from one technicality to another, and finally after looking at the matter in a reasonable way Bill, Bonnie, and Nathan and all of us decided that we have fought enough on this and it looks like its the Lord's will that we take his body back to Brooklyn, and have him buried in Staten Island, which we did." Witnesses collected over 14,000 signatures on a petition that Rutherford's dying wish might be granted. The May 27, 1942 Consolation explained:
As early as 1920 Judge Rutherford pointed out that the ancient witnesses or princes were promised an earthly resurrection by the Lord. In that year he delivered a public address at Los Angeles, California, entitled 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die,' in which he called attention to the expectations of the return of the men above mentioned. All the publications since emphasize the same fact. It therefore appears that the return of the princes is a fundamental teaching of the Scriptures. It is as certain as the truth of God's Word. Judge Rutherford gave much of his life in endeavoring to bring this vital matter to the people's attention. What, then, could be more fitting and appropriate before God and before men that his bones should rest on the land held in trust for the men whose coming he was privileged to announce.
Consolation condemned San Diego County officials for their refusal to grant a permit for Rutherford's burial at Beth Sarim or on a neighboring property named Beth Shan, also owned by the Watchtower Society:
It was not the fate of the bones which they decided, but their own destiny. Nor is their blood on anyone else's head, because they were told three times that to fight against God, or to tamper with His servant's bones even, would bring upon them the condemnation of the Lord. ... So their responsibility is fixed, and they followed the course of Satan.
After all appeals were exhausted, Consolation stated that Rutherford's remains were shipped to New York where he was buried on April 25, 1942. Critics have speculated that Rutherford was secretly buried at Beth Sarim. The May 4, 1942 issue of Time magazine noted Rutherford's burial at Rossville, New York, on Staten Island; a private burial plot for Watch Tower branch volunteers is on Woodrow Road. The exact grave location is unmarked; in 2002, a caretaker at Woodrow United Methodist Church and Cemetery (an adjoining graveyard) answered an inquiry about Watch Tower's plot by noting "I couldn't tell you who is buried on it because it has absolutely no markers or headstones or anything". - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 7/23/2011