Part of a series: The WTS and the End of the World
- Part 1: Why So Many False Alarms?
- Part 2: The Orwellian Thinking of JWs
- Part 3: Unassailable Proofs
- Part 4: More Unassailable Proofs
- Part 5: Sanitizing the Past
- Part 6: Later Effects of the Society’s False Predictions
The third article in the March 22, 1993 Awake! series was entitled “Why Such Eager Expectation of the New World?” After quoting a number of scriptures about how God will cause righteousness to dwell upon the earth and will cause all of mankind’s ills to disappear, the subsection beginning on page 10 asks and answers the question, “How Near?”:
If you are inclined to dismiss all of this as pie in the sky, too good to be true, pause again and reflect. In addition to the features of the composite sign of Christ Jesus’ presence, there is Bible chronology that pointed to 1914 as the beginning of his presence. Jehovah’s Witnesses published the date 1914 as a significant year in the development of Jehovah’s Kingdom rule of the earth, doing so in the Watch Tower magazine of July 1879. Many historians and observers of world affairs have noted that the year 1914 ushered in an entirely different and significant period in human history, as the accompanying box indicates.
This paragraph is amazingly deceptive. No Bible chronology points to 1914. Taken in conjunction with the overall discussion, without actually saying so the paragraph leads the reader into thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted in 1879 that Christ’s presence would begin in 1914, ushering in the time period the Society now calls “the last days.” But this is not true at all, as shown by the Society’s new history book, Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. On page 134 it lists four others prior to 1879 who mentioned 1914 in connection with end-times speculation. The entire picture Awake! paints is false for a variety of reasons.
First, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not even exist until 1931 so they could hardly be said to have done anything in 1879. C. T. Russell, founder of the Bible Student movement, would hardly recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses today as his successors because they have abandoned so many of his beliefs. Second, the “Bible chronology” that Jehovah’s Witnesses now use was not originated by Russell, but, as stated above, by others earlier in the 19th century. The man who put it into the form Russell adopted in 1876 was N. H. Barbour, who later abandoned it himself. Third, the July 1879 Zion’s Watch Tower makes no mention of 1914 or of the Gentile times. The year 1914 is not mentioned in the magazine until the December 1879 issue, page 3 (p. 56 Reprints), as being the end of the “day of wrath.” The idea that the “Times of the Gentiles” extend to 1914 is not mentioned until the March 1880 issue, page 2 (p. 82 Reprints). Fourth, the chronology is not even right, because it conflicts with both the Bible and secular historical evidence, which agree with each other. Fifth, this chronology pegged 1874, not 1914, as the beginning of “Christ’s invisible presence.” This honor was not claimed for 1914 until 1943. Sixth, Russell predicted that by 1914 all the kingdoms of the world and false religion would have been destroyed and God’s kingdom established in the earth. He most certainly did not predict World War I, because the nations were to have already been destroyed by 1914. Seventh, as has already been pointed out, 1914 was only one of many turning points in world history, and was certainly not the most significant.
In support of these statements, we now present quotations from early Watchtower literature that show exactly what was believed before 1914 about the 1914 date and other “Bible chronology.” Refer back to page 30 of this essay for others. Readers should compare these statements with their watered-down and sanitized descriptions in Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom.
The following material provides background on the 1914 chronology. The original calculations were mostly based on dates from John Aquila Brown, who in 1823 published a work claiming that the “seven times” of Daniel 4 were a period of 2520 years running from the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in 604 B.C. to 1917 A.D. While Brown never equated the 2520 years to the “Gentile Times,” other writers soon did.1Eventually Nelson H. Barbour picked up the torch and put the finishing touches on what became Charles Taze Russell’s chronology. Barbour published his calculation of the Gentile Times for the first time in the September, 1875 issue of his monthly paper Herald of the Morning, starting them in 606 B.C. and ending them in 1914 A.D. In January, 1876 C. T. Russell read Barbour’s paper, soon got together with him, and accepted all of Barbour’s time calculations, even becoming a co-editor of Barbour’s paper. These calculations included one that said Christ’s presence began in 1874 and the “day of the Lord” began in 1873. Shortly thereafter, Russell published a similar calculation in the October, 1876 issue of The Bible Examiner. This paper was published by George Storrs, who was generally influential on Russell and had been a major leader in William Miller’s movement. Storrs was active in Adventist related movements when Russell began publishing.
The earliest publications Russell was involved with stressed the urgency of the times, emphasizing that in 1874 Christ returned and by 1914 he would have destroyed all the kingdoms of the world. The 1877 book Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, written by N. H. Barbour and financed by Russell, contained the basis for most of Russell’s later chronology and many of his doctrines. Note these excerpts:
THE END OF THIS WORLD; that is, the end of the gospel and the beginning of the millennial age is nearer than most men suppose; indeed we have already entered the transition period, which is to be a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Dan. 12:1)…. [p. 17].
That the millennium is to be ushered in, or preceded, by the most terrible and desolating wars this world has ever witnessed, is so clearly revealed, as to leave no room for the believer in the Bible to call it in question. [p. 19]
The kingdom of God is to be set up before the days of the Gentiles end, for “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom; and it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2:44). And this breaking in pieces, together with the battle of the great day, are some of the events of this forty years of trouble [beginning in 1874]. [p. 26]
The first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1879, stated on page 1 the object of its publication:
That we are living “in the last days” — “the days of the Lord” — “the end” of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the “new” age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony.
The August, 1879 Watch Tower described on pages 2-3 its view of Christ’s “presence” (parousia):
We believe the Scriptures to teach that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that “every eye shall see Him.”…. We think we have good solid reasons…. that we are now “in the days of the Son;” that “the day of the Lord” has come, and Jesus, a spiritual body, is present, harvesting the Gospel age.
When did Christ’s “presence” begin? Early Zion’s Watch Towers said:
Christ came in the character of a Bridegroom in 1874…. at the beginning of the Gospel harvest. [October, 1879, p. 4]
“The Times of the gentiles” extend to 1914, and the heavenly kingdom will not have full sway till then, but as a “Stone” the kingdom of God is set up “in the days of these (ten gentile) kings,” and by consuming them it becomes a universal kingdom — a “great mountain and fills the whole Earth.” [March, 1880, p. 2]
With respect to the parable of the ten virgins of Matthew 25 the Society said:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock….”…. The presence and knock began in the fall of 1874. [April, 1880, p. 2]
The July, 1880 Watch Tower described on pages 1 and 3 some of what was to happen during the “time of trouble,” and when that was to be:
Most of our readers are perhaps aware that our understanding of the word leads us to the conclusion that “The time of trouble” or “Day of wrath,” covering the forty years from 1874 to 1914 is in two parts or of two kinds: first a time of trouble upon the church during which she (the nominal church) will fall from her present position of influence and respect with the world, and many will fall from truth and from faith. This trouble upon the church and also the fact that we shall be in it but protected and safe is shown by the xci. Psalm…. The trouble coming upon the world will follow the trouble on the church as a natural consequence and is the second part of the trouble of the “Day of wrath.” Will the saints be here during its continuance upon the world? No, we remember Jesus said: “Watch ye that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all those things coming upon the world and to stand before the Son of Man.” A glorious anticipation is this, that we are to be gathered together unto our living Head — Christ, and to enter into His kingdom before the pouring out of the vials of wrath upon the world….
We conclude that the day of wrath is included in the Gospel harvest, and, therfore, that the age and harvest extend to 1914, covering a space of forty years from the Spring of 1875….
Clearly these quotations prove Russell did not predict the Kingdom of God would be set up in heaven, in 1914, but would be set up on the earth, by 1914. By 1914 everything would be pretty much wrapped up. Material cited below shows that Russell could not possibly have believed God’s Kingdom would be set up in heaven in 1914, because he believed it had already been set up in heaven in 1878. This is further shown by the statement concerning 1914 in The Time Is At Hand, 1889, page 77:
…. at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, “Thy Kingdom come,” will have obtained full, universal control, and that it will then be “set up,” or firmly established, in the earth.
Further showing this was Russell’s view, the July, 1880 Watch Tower, on page 4, was adamant that by 1914 the “day of wrath” would be finished. He explicitly discounted the doctrine of “Christ’s presence” his successors believe:
Will any whose lamps are burning brightly with the light of the truth on the Times of the Gentiles, and the time of trouble or day of vengeance with which those times end, take the ground that the day of wrath extends beyond 1914? They must do all this, and thus ignore the parallelism between the two days of wrath, or admit that Christ receives His crown before the subjugation of the nations in this day of wrath.
The August, 1880 Watch Tower, on page 2, also said that pretty much everything would be wrapped up by 1914. There would be
a period of 33 years of trouble — making with the preceding 7 years the 40 years of trouble or “Day of wrath” ending with the times of the Gentiles in 1914, when the kingdom of God [soon to be set upor exalted to power] will have broken in pieces and consumed all earthly kingdoms.
The November, 1880 Watch Tower said on page 1 that there was “conclusive proof” about Russell’s view of Christ’s presence. Discussing parts of Revelation it said:
We need not here repeat the evidences that the “seventh trump” began its sounding A.D., 1840, and will continue until the end of the time of trouble, and the end of “The times of the Gentiles,” A.D., 1914, and that it is the trouble of this “Great day,” which is here symbolically called the voice of the Archangel when he begins the deliverance of fleshly Israel. “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince [Archangel] which standeth for the children of thy people and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” Dan. xii. 1. Nor will we here, again present the conclusive Bible proof that our Lord came for his Bride in 1874, and has an unseen work as Reaper of the first-fruits of this Gospel Age.
The May, 1881 Watch Tower, on page 5, discussed current beliefs about what might happen in the fall of 1881, and summarized the beliefs about time prophecies:
We believe that all time prophecies (bearing upon Jesus’ coming) ended at and before the fall of 1874, and that He came there, and the second advent is now in progress and will continue during the entire Millennial age. We believe that his presence will be revealed to the eyes of men’s understandings gradually during this “Day of the Lord,” (forty years — from 1874 to 1914,) as it now is to ours; except that we, discern it through the word of prophecy revealed by the Spirit, and they will recognize his presence by His judgment upon Nominal Zion, and the World.
The January, 1886 Watch Tower, page 1, stressed the urgency of the times:
The outlook at the opening of the New Year has some very encouraging features. The outward evidences are that the marshalling of the hosts for the battle of the great day of God Almighty, is in progress while the skirmishing is commencing….
The time is come for Messiah to take the dominion of earth and to overthrow the oppressors and corrupters of the earth, (Rev. 19:15 and 11:17,18) preparatory to the establishment of everlasting peace upon the only firm foundation of righteousness and truth.
The preceding material proves that, despite what many Jehovah’s Witnesses believe today, C. T. Russell did not believe that 1914 marked the establishment of the Kingdom of God in heaven, because that had already happened in 1878. Nor did he believe that 1914 would be followed by another generation of conflict without any intervention by God. He did expect that in 1914 the saints would be glorified and they would be carried off to heaven to rule with Jesus.
For many years the Society wanted Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe that C. T. Russell had predicted Christ’s return for 1914, that world war would begin that year, and many other things the Society now attaches to that date. It wants them to believe a sanitized and idealized version of history, because the true history shows that Russell had no more and no less direction from God than any other sincere Christian. When discussing what Russell predicted or believed regarding 1914, the Society is usually not very clear as to exactly what was predicted or believed, but uses some vague expression like “Bible Students were pointing to 1914,” without saying precisely what they were pointing out. Things are kept comfortably vague. The 1981 book Let Your Kingdom Come well illustrates this desire to keep the full truth hidden. Note how much is left out in the discussion on pages 127-8:
Years in advance, careful Bible students were looking forward with keen anticipation to that year. On what basis?
Thirty-four years before 1914, the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, in its issues of December 1879 and March 1880, was pointing to 1914 as a marked date in Bible prophecy. An article in its issue of June 1880 called attention to the approaching end of “the Times of the Gentiles (Luke xxi. 24).” Though the writer at the time did not understand the full implication of events about to take place, he showed from Bible chronology that a period of “seven times,” or 2,520 years, of domination in government by godless nations, starting from the first desolating of ancient Jerusalem, was due to end in “A.D. 1914.” He stated: “The long period of 2520 years and… bitter experience [of God’s people] under the dominion of the beasts, (human governments, Dan. vii.) is clearly represented in Dan. iv., by the ‘seven times’ of Nebuchadnezzar and his bitter experience among the beasts.”
The only chronological result Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to from the old Zion’s Watch Towers is that 1914 was special — the “Gentile times” were to end that year. Every detail of what was to happen was changed when the original expectations failed to materialize. Let Your Kingdom Come used extreme understatement in saying that “the writer at the time did not understand the full implication of events about to take place,” because he really had no idea what he was talking about at all. See page 111 of this essay for just what was predicted in the March 1880 Watch Tower. Here is what the June 1880 Watch Tower had to say about 1914 and related dates (p. 6; p. 109 Reprints):
In Leviticus xxvi, the expression “seven times” is four times repeated in reference to the duration of the rule of its enemies over Jerusalem. It has often been shown that this is the basis and key of the Times of the Gentiles (Luke xxi. 24), or the duration of Gentile rule over Jerusalem. A time is a year; a prophetic year is 360 common years and has been so fulfilled. “A time, times and a half” (i.e., 31/2 times) has been fulfilled as 1260 literal years in the Papal dominion over the nations, between A.D. 538 and A.D. 1798.
If three times and a half are 1260 years, seven times are 2520 years. From B.C. 606, where the desolation of Jerusalem began, 2520 years reach to A.D. 1914.
According to this application of the number seven, Jerusalem will be free at that time, and thence-forward be a praise in the earth. The application is clearly confirmed by the events of to-day — the trouble brewing among the nations, and the beginning of Jewish restoration.
The prophetic argument on the Two Dispensations shows that favor was due to that people in 1878, and the door was legally opened for their return, by the Anglo-Turkish treaty of that year. From 1878 to 1914, is a period of 37 years for their rise, and is equal to the period of their fall, from the time Jesus left their house desolate in A.D. 33, until their complete destruction in A.D. 70.
Their fall was from natural nationality, and they will rise to the same. “This child is set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel.” Jesus has the work of restoring the natural, and of imparting all manner of spiritual blessings.
The long period of 2520 years and their bitter experience under the dominion of the beasts, (human governments, Dan. vii.) is clearly represented in Dan. iv., by the “seven times” of Nebuchadnezzar and his bitter experience among the beats.
Let Your Kingdom Come phrased its discussion of these early Watch Towers in such a way as to conceal what was really believed. It said that the June 1880 writer “showed from Bible chronology that a period of ‘seven times,’ or 2,520 years, of domination in government by godless nations, starting from the first desolating of ancient Jerusalem, was due to end in ‘A.D. 1914.'” As the full quotation shows, the writer started his calculation in 606 B.C., which the Society discredited and changed to 607 B.C. in 1943. He had neglected the fact that there was no “zero year” between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D. How then, can it be said that the writer “showed” anything from Bible chronology? To “show,” or prove something, one must use facts. If one uses mere assertions, or claims that turn out not to be facts, then one has not proved anything. It is lying to claim, knowing that a purported proof has been discredited by later data, that the proof “showed” anything. But this is par for the course in Watchtower literature.
The following material provides more evidence Russell believed that by 1914 God would cause the break-up of all earthly kingdoms and would substitute theocratic rule during the rest of the Millennium. He believed that God would restore men to perfection — he would not destroy most of them in a coming Battle of Armageddon, because it had already begun in 1874 (see below). These beliefs are evident in what Russell wrote in the first volume of the Millennial Dawn series (Studies in the Scriptures), The Divine Plan of the Ages, first published in 1886. On pages 91 and 95 Russell wrote:
…. but when God’s Word and plan are viewed as a whole, these will all be found to favour the view…. that Christ comes before the conversion of the world, and reigns for the purpose of converting the world…. They believe that God will do no more than choose this Church, while we find the Scriptures teaching a further step in the divine plan — a restitution for the world, to be accomplished through the elect Church.
On page 307 Russell described the events that were supposed to lead up to the end of the “Times of the Gentiles” in 1914:
The “Day of Jehovah” is the name of that period of time in which God’s kingdom, under Christ, is to be gradually “set up” in the earth while the kingdoms of this world are passing away and Satan’s power and influence over men are being bound. It is everywhere described as a dark day of intense trouble and distress and perplexity upon mankind. And what wonder that a revolution of such proportions, and necessitating such great changes, should cause trouble. Small revolutions have caused trouble in every age; and this, so much greater than any previous revolution, is to be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation — no, nor ever shall be….
It is called the “Day of Jehovah” because, though Christ, with royal title and power, will be present as Jehovah’s representative, taking charge of all the affairs during this day of trouble, it is more as the General of Jehovah, subduing all things, than as the Prince of Peace, blessing all….
The phrase “Christ… will be present” is extremely significant, since Russell had been publishing for many years that Christ’s “second presence” began in 1874. So the “Day of Jehovah” started in 1874. In The Divine Plan of the Ages this time period is also called the “Day of Vengeance of our God,” the “Day of Wrath”, the “Day of the Lord” and the “Day of Trouble”.
The Divine Plan left the discussion of specific dates to the next volume in the series, first published in 1889, The Time Is At Hand, concerning which it said, on pages 336-7:
Another thought with reference to this Day of Trouble is that it has come just in due time — God’s due time. In the next volume of this work, evidence is adduced from the testimony of the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, as well as from Jesus and the apostolic prophets of the New Testament, which shows clearly and unmistakably that this Day of Trouble is located chronologically in the beginning of the glorious Millennial reign of Messiah…. The trouble of the Day of the Lord, which we already see gathering, confirms the wisdom of God’s arrangement.
Russell also said in The Time Is At Hand, pages 40, 100:
If, then, the seventh thousand-year period of earth’s history be an epoch specially noted as the period of Christ’s reign, we shall, by showing that it began in A.D. 1873, be proving that we are already in it. This calls to mind what we have already noted in the preceding volume, that the Scriptures indicated that the dawn of the Millennium, or Day of the Lord, will be dark and stormy, and full of trouble upon the world and upon the nominal church….
So, in this “Day of Jehovah,” the “Day of Trouble,” our Lord takes his great power (hitherto dormant) and reigns, and this it is that will cause the trouble, though the world will not so recognize it for some time….
The Time Is At Hand made many predictions about what the end of the Times of the Gentiles would bring, on pages 76-7. Judge for yourself if any of these predictions have come true:
God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Jehovah’s Anointed… will be established gradually, during a great time of trouble with which the Gospel age will close, and in the midst of which present dominions shall be utterly consumed, passing away amid great confusion.
In this chapter we present the Bible evidence proving that the full end of the times of the Gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in A.D. 1914; and that that date will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men. And be it observed, that if this is shown to be a fact firmly established by the Scriptures, it will prove: –
Firstly, That at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, “Thy Kingdom come,” will have obtained full, universal control, and that it will then be “set up,” or firmly established, in the earth, on the ruins of present institutions.
Secondly, It will prove that he whose right it is thus to take the dominion will then be present as earth’s new Ruler; and not only so, but it will also prove that he will be present for a considerable period before that date; because the overthrow of these Gentile governments is directly caused by his dashing them to pieces as a potter’s vessel (Psa. 2:9; Rev. 2:27), and establishing in their stead his own righteous government.
Thirdly, It will prove that some time before the end of A.D. 1914 the last member of the divinely recognized Church of Christ, the “royal priesthood,” “the body of Christ,” will be glorified with the Head; because every member is to reign with Christ, being a joint-heir with him of the Kingdom, and it cannot be fully “set up” without every member.
Fourthly, It will prove that from that time forward Jerusalem shall no longer be trodden down of the Gentiles, but shall arise from the dust of divine disfavor, to honor; because the “Times of the Gentiles” will be fulfilled or completed.
Fifthly, It will prove that by that date, or sooner, Israel’s blindness will begin to be turned away; because their “blindness in part” was to continue only “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25), or, in other words, until the full number from among the Gentiles, who are to be members of the body or bride of Christ, would be fully selected.
Sixthly, It will prove that the great “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation,” will reach its culmination in a world-wide reign of anarchy; and then men will learn to be still, and to know that Jehovah is God and that he will be exalted in the earth.
Seventhly, It will prove that before that date God’s Kingdom, organized in power, will be in the earth and then smite and crush the Gentile image (Dan. 2:34) — and fully consume the power of these kings. Its own power and dominion will be established as fast as by its varied influences and agencies it crushes and scatters the “powers that be” — civil and ecclesiastical — iron and clay.
On pages 98-99 The Time Is At Hand said:
True, it is expecting great things to claim, as we do, that within the coming twenty-six years all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved; but we are living in a special and peculiar time, the “Day of Jehovah,” in which matters culminate quickly; and it is written, “A short work will the Lord make upon the earth….
In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914.
The Society tends to minimize the certainty with which Russell published statements like these, but his express statement that “we consider it an established truth” clearly shows his intent. On page 101 The Time Is At Hand said:
Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is pointed out in prophecy as due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.The gathering of the armies is plainly visible from the standpoint of God’s Word.
If our vision be unobstructed by prejudice, when we get the telescope of God’s Word rightly adjusted we may see with clearness the character of many of the events due to take place in the “Day of the Lord” — that we are in the very midst of those events, and that “the Great Day of His Wrath is come.”
The September 1 and 15, 1893 Watch Tower is quite revealing as to Russell’s view of what would happen before 1914, and it proves he did not think his views were speculation of any sort. On pages 282-284 it said (p. 1581 of Reprints):
The question comes from many quarters: “Brother Russell, are you not possibly mistaken by a few years in your calculations, since you expect, upon Scriptural authority, that the great trouble will all be over by A.D. 1914, and that in its severity it will probably not reach us before A.D. 1906 to 1908? Is it not possible that the present financial trouble is the beginning of the great trouble?”
We answer, No; we think there is no mistake.
The July 1, 1894 Watch Tower emphasized that the facts supported its chronology. On pages 224-8 (p. 1675 Reprints) it said:
It is interesting to look back and note the accuracy of the fulfillment of God’s Word, so that our hearts may be established with the greater confidence respecting the future — the things coming upon the earth. For instance, as we look back and note that the Scriptures marked 1873 as the end of six thousand years from Adam to the beginning of the seventh thousand, and the fall of 1874 as the beginning of the forty-year harvest of the Gospel age and day of wrath for the overthrow of all the institutions of “this present evil world [or order of affairs],” we can see that facts have well borne out those predictions of Scripture. We see that the present worldwide distress had its beginning there; that it has been progressing with increasing momentum every year since; and that, as the Apostle Paul declared it would be, so it has been, and so it is — “As travail upon a woman with child.” Each spasm of pain is more intense; and so it evidently will continue to be until the death of the present order of things and the birth of the new.
The June 11, 1894 Watch Tower, page 162 (not reproduced in Watch Tower Reprints) said:
“As travail upon a woman with child” is the inspired description of the forty-year day of trouble, by which the Millennial age is commenced. The panic of 1873, which affected the whole world, was the first spasm, and since then at irregular intervals the labor-pains of earth have been experienced. Just now, we of the United States are in the midst of one of these throes of the groaning creation.
The Watch Tower was referring to the great depression of 1894, the greatest in the United States until the depression of the 1930s. But this again was referring to events that were to take place as part of the final death-throes of humanity, as can be seen in the next paragraph in the article:
In this land of bountiful crops, many, because of strikes, are almost destitute of food. In this land of liberty thousands of armed and unarmed men in half a dozen states are in a state of war. It is a war of labor against capital, and is the natural result of the competitive system of business, which evidently will hold on until spasm after spasm of increasing severity, resulting in archy [sic] will ultimately give birth to a new order of society based upon the new-old teaching of Christ.
The January 15, 1892 Watch Tower said on page 19:
The Scriptures give unmistakable testimony to those who have full faith in its records, that there is a great time of trouble ahead of the present comparative calm in the world — a trouble which will embroil all nations, overthrow all existing institutions, civil, social and religious, bring about a universal reign of anarchy and terror, and prostrate humanity in the very dust of despair, thus to make them ready to appreciate the power that will bring order out of that confusion and institute the new rule of righteousness. All this, the Scriptures show us, is to come to pass before the year 1914 (See MILLENNIAL DAWN, Vol. II, Chapter IV.) — that is, within the next twenty-three years.
All thinking men, whether they have faith in the Word of prophecy or not, see in the present attitude of mankind in general a growing tendency which threatens such a culmination, and they stand in fear and dread of it. As a consequence, the daily papers and the weeklies and monthlies, religious and secular, are continually discussing the prospects of war in Europe. They note the grievances and ambitions of the various nations and predict that war is inevitable at no distant day, that it may begin at any moment between some of the great powers, and that the prospects are that it will eventually involve them all. And they picture the awful calamity of such an event in view of the preparations made for it on the part of every nation. For several years past thoughtful observers have said, War cannot be kept off much longer: it must come soon — “next spring,” “next summer,” “next fall,” etc.
But, notwithstanding these predictions and the good reasons which many see for making them, we do not share them. That is, we do not think that the prospects of a general European war are so marked as is commonly supposed. True, all Europe is like a great powder magazine which a single stray match might set off at any moment with a tremendous explosion. The various nations are armed to the teeth with the most destructive weapons that skill and ingenuity can invent, and there are national grievances and bickerings and hatred that must find a vent some time; and in consideration of these things the war cloud is always impending and ever darkening: but things may continue just so for many years, and we think they will.
These rumors of impending European wars, and the desire to judge whether observation would tend to confirm the divine revelation that the intensity of the great predicted trouble is yet nearly fifteen years future, formed no small part of our motive in visiting Europe during the past summer.
On pages 21-23, this issue stated again that the final battle had already begun, its end to come in 1914:
The date of the close of that “battle” is definitely marked in Scripture as October, 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874. Thus far it has been chiefly a battle of words and a time of organizing forces…. Never was there such a general time of banding together as at present. Not only are nations allying with each other for protection against other nations, but the various factions in every nation are organizing to protect their several interests…. This feature of the battle must continue with varying success to all concerned; the organization must be very thorough; and the final struggle will be comparatively short, terrible and decisive — resulting in general anarchy.
Another book by Russell, Thy Kingdom Come, 1891, said on page 153:
…. with the end of A.D. 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy.
So for a long time prior to 1914 Russell said Armageddon is “already in progress.” The following quotations show that after 1914 he said it would begin very soon and that the War in progress would lead right into it.
January 1, 1915: …. the war is one predicted in the Scriptures as associated with the great day of Almighty God — “the day of vengeance of our God.”
April 1, 1915: The Battle of Armageddon, to which this war is leading, will be a great contest between right and wrong, and will signify the complete and everlasting overthrow of the wrong, and the permanent establishment of Messiah’s righteous kingdom for the blessing of the world…. Our sympathies are broad enough to cover all engaged in the dreadful strife, as our hope is broad enough and deep enough to include all in the great blessings which our Master and his Millennial kingdom are about to bring to the world.
April 15, 1916: We believe that the dates have proven to be quite right. We believe that Gentile Times have ended, and that God is now allowing the Gentile Governments to destroy themselves, in order to prepare the way for Messiah’s kingdom.
September 1, 1916: It still seems clear to us that the prophetic period known as the Times of the Gentiles ended chronologically in October, 1914. The fact that the great day of wrath upon the nations began there marks a good fulfillment of our expectations…. We see no reason for doubting, therefore, that the Times of the Gentiles ended in October, 1914; and that a few more years will witness their utter collapse and the full establishment of God’s kingdom in the hands of Messiah.
“A few more years….” So much for the ‘vision’ of C. T. Russell. The Society, and A. H. Macmillan in Faith on the March, (p. 54) have argued that Russell envisioned a protracted post-1914 preaching and growth. The published statements show that it simply was not so.
Oddly enough, in October, 1916 Russell played down the significance of what he had predicted for 1914. In the foreword to the 1916 edition of The Time Is At Hand, on page iii and exercising clear hindsight he wrote:
We could not, of course, know in 1889, whether the date 1914, so clearly marked in the Bible as the end of the Gentile lease of power or permission to rule the world, would mean that they would be fully out of power at that time, or whether, their lease expiring, their eviction would begin. The latter we perceive to be the Lord’s program; and promptly in August, 1914, the Gentile kingdoms referred to in the prophecy began the present great struggle, which, according to the Bible, will culminate in the complete overthrow of all human government, opening the way for the full establishment of the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.
In the foreword to the 1916 edition of Thy Kingdom Come he wrote, on pages i and ii:
…. we anticipate that before a very long time — perhaps a year or two or three — the full number of the Elect will be completed, and all will have gone beyond the Veil and the door will be shut.
So Russell felt that the things that did not happen in 1914 would still happen very shortly thereafter — “perhaps a year or two or three.” In the foreword to The Time Is At Hand he excused some of these false predictions.
The author acknowledges that in this book he presents the thought that the Lord’s saints might expect to be with Him in glory at the ending of the Gentile Times. This was a natural mistake to fall into, but the Lord overruled it for the blessing of His people. The thought that the Church would all be gathered to glory before October, 1914, certainly did have a very stimulating and sanctifying effectupon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord — even for the mistake. Many, indeed, can express themselves as being thankful to the Lord that the culmination of the Church’s hopes was not reached at the time we expected; and that we, as the Lord’s people, have further opportunities of perfecting holiness and of being participators with our Master in the further presentation of His Message to His people.
Involving God and Christ with the mistakes made, with God “overruling” certain predictions, provides a convenient escape from having to shoulder the responsibility for having falsely presented as “God’s dates” things that were not God’s dates at all but simply the product of human speculation. Merit is found even in false predictions because of the “stimulating and sanctifying effect” produced, so that one may “praise the Lord — even for the mistake.” Whatever motivated Russell to put such confidence in his speculations, it is evident that he could not allow himself to take responsibility for his false claims and predictions. For whatever reasons, he deluded himself until his death.
This legacy of delusion — imperviousness to reality — is firmly entrenched in the Watchtower Society today. The self-delusional approach allowed for still more false predictions with their “stimulating” effects. J. F. Rutherford and his successors took full advantage of the smokescreen these ideas allowed. The March 22, 1993 Awake! follows suit.
Contrary to Russell’s expectations the War ended in 1918 without being followed by worldwide Socialist revolution and anarchy. The last member of the Church of Christ had not been glorified, the city of Jerusalem was still trodden down by the Gentiles, the Kingdom of God had not crushed “the Gentile image,” and the “new heavens and the new earth” could not be seen anywhere by trouble-tossed humanity. Not one of the seven predictions enumerated in The Time Is At Hand had come true.
“He that deceives me once, shame fall him; if he deceives me twice, shame fall me.” — James Kelley, Scottish Proverbs
The Society finally admitted, in its new history book Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, that most of Russell’s expectations based on his chronology were quite incorrect. Yet note how watered-down, to the point of being comical, the admissions are. From page 135:
What would the end of the Gentile Times mean?
The Bible Students were not completely sure what would happen [the author of JWPGK is a true master of understatement]. They were convinced that it would not result in a burning up of the earth and a blotting out of human life [excellent; the scriptures contain no trace of such an idea]. Rather, they knew it would mark a significant point in regard to divine rulership [how could they be said to have known this when all their concrete predictions based on the same foundation ultimately failed?]. At first, they thought that by that date the Kingdom of God would have obtained full universal control. When that did not occur, their confidence in the Bible prophecies that marked the date did not waver [just like William Miller’s and N. H. Barbour’s followers’ confidence in their dates did not waver after they failed]. They concluded that, instead, the date had marked only a starting point as to Kingdom rule [in other words, they quickly redesigned their chronological doctrines after they were disproved].
Similarly, they also first thought that global troubles culminating in anarchy (which they understood would be associated with the war of “the great day of God the Almighty”) would precede that date [note how the earlier belief that Armageddon had already started in 1874 is not mentioned]. (Rev. 16:14) But then, ten years before 1914, the Watch Tower suggested that worldwide turmoil that would result in the annihilating of human institutions would come right after the end of the Gentile Times [sure, because Russell had predicted that by 1904 major troubles would have begun, and when they didn’t he had to revise his claims]. They expected the year 1914 to mark a significant turning point for Jerusalem, since the prophecy had said that ‘Jerusalem would be trodden down’ until the Gentile Times were fulfilled. When they saw 1914 drawing close and yet they had not died as humans and been ‘caught up in the clouds’ to meet the Lord — in harmony with earlier expectations [apparently referring to the failed rapture and resurrection predictions for 1878 and 1881] — they earnestly hoped that their change might take place at the end of the Gentile Times [just as some of William Miller’s disappointed followers continued to hope for their change].
As the years passed and they examined and reexamined the Scriptures, their faith in the prophecies remained strong, and they did not hold back from stating what they expected to occur [like predicting Armageddon in 1918 and 1925?]. With varying degrees of success, they endeavored to avoid being dogmatic about details not directly stated in the Scriptures [like when a 1923 Watch Tower said “As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had… upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge”?].
Let us examine this last statement carefully. It says “with varying degrees of success …” This really means that sometimes they failed to avoid being dogmatic (note the confusing double negative thinking required here), and so they were dogmatic after all. The statements in this essay certainly prove that the Society has been dogmatic. Put bluntly, the book is saying that sometimes the Society dogmatically preached things that were not taught in the scriptures. This is a perfect example of “lying by telling the truth,” as noted in Part 1 of this essay.
As for his successors’ claims for J. F. Rutherford’s humility and lack of dogmatism, after everything Rutherford had said about 1925 came crashing down he admitted to the Bethel family, “I know I made an ass of myself.” Had Rutherford been truly humble he never would have made such asinine claims to begin with.
“He that makes himself an Ass, must not take it ill if Men ride him.” — Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia
1 The Society’s new history book says on page 134 that Brown “did, however, connect these ‘seven times’ with the Gentile Times of Luke 21:24.” It gives the impression that Brown equated the periods, but he was very clear that they were not the same. In The Even-Tide Brown said of the Gentile times:
The times of the Gentiles then are the duration of the Mohammedan power; and when the period of that tyranny is accomplished, Jerusalem will be no longer trodden down of the Gentiles. [Vol. 1, p. 35]
“Jerusalem should be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;” and their times are defined to be 1260 years, or “forty and two months.” [Vol. 1, p. 105]
The first proposition maintained, and which may be denominated, The duration of the mystery and bondage of the holy people, is that — From the Hegira, May 622, to the finishing of the mystery, and the expulsion of the Turks from the Holy Land, who, succeeding the Saracens in their possession of that territory, continue still to scatter the power of the holy people, are to be reckoned twelve hundred and sixty Mohameddan years, or 1222 solar years, which end April, 1844. [Vol. 1, p. 60]
Concerning Nebuchadnezzar’s seven times, Brown said:
They are “seven times,” and, therefore, are to be taken in the same symbolical sense as other prophetical periods, and as the “time, times, and a half;” and, if this opinion be correct, then must the history of Nebuchadnezzar be taken in its typical import. The “seven times” would, therefore, be considered as a grand week of years, forming a period of two thousand five hundred and twenty years, and embracing the duration of the four tyrannical monarchies…. Commencing, therefore, the calculation of the “seven times,” from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, A.C. 604,… the termination of these 2520 years will fall out in the year 1917. [Vol. 2, p. 135]
From the rise of the four monarchies, commencing 604 A.C., to their final dissolution, there will be a grand week of years, or 2520 years, and will terminate, January 1, 1917. [Vol. 2, p. 152]
Brown might be said to have “connected” the two time periods in the sense that the termini of the two significant periods (the 1260 year period ending in 1844, and the 2520 year period ending in 1917) were the boundaries of a 75 lunar year period during which all the signs predicted by Jesus would occur:
As the mysterious times of Daniel pass away at the end of 1260 years, and Mohammedism is to be taken away at the end of the thirty succeeding years, and as the reign of blessedness commences at the end of the next period of forty-five years; that the “great day of the Lord” is bounded on the one side by the 1260 days, and on the other by the termination of the elongated period, most probably of the thirty years, but in its utmost latitude, of seventy-five years; the interval must, therefore, be “the great day of the Lord,” and the session of the first and second judgment. [Vol. 2, pp. 68-9]
The reservation of the earth to be burned up by fire, and the dissolution of the heavens, as asserted by Peter, can mean no more than do the same terms employed by Isaiah, Joel, and other prophets, which predicted the dissolution of the political heavens and earth of the empires which were to exist at the times to which the prophecies related; and are, doubtless, the signs as declared by our Lord which shall precede his coming, “when he shall appear with flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God, and believe not the gospel of the Lord Jesus.” But these take place when “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The kingdom of Christ, and the dominion of the saints, are to succeed the tyrannical monarchies of the world. [Vol. 2, p. 206]
The times of these monarchies are fixed by the “seven times” of the symbolic image, and by the 1335 years of the Mohammedan Imposture…. then must it be maintained that the forty-five years of Daniel are the period of the second judgment; and commencing in 1873, are attended by the sitting of that judgment, and by the general resurrection, the last hour of which terminates with the “seven times” of the monarchies, and with the 1335 Mohammedan years, in 1917…. The Saviour himself, speaking of the signs of his second coming, foretels all these events; and upon that memorable occasion, when he predicted the treading down of Jerusalem, and “that the Jews should be led captive into all nations, during the times of the Gentiles, obviously refers to the sitting of the second judgment, at which he is to appear as the Judge. [Vol. 2, p. 208]
It is unclear whether the impression JWPGK gives (that Brown equated the two time periods) is accidental or deliberate. Either way, the impression is quite wrong.
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Sign of the Last Days — When? by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst.)