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Friday, May 1, 2009

1914 and Great Expectations

At that time there also were reasons for rejoicing. For years God’s people had pointed forward to 1914 as the year that would mark the end of the Gentile Times. Their expectations did not lead to disappointment. On July 28, 1914, World War I erupted, and as time marched on toward October 1 more and more nations and empires got involved. As Jehovah’s Christian witnesses know from their Scriptural studies, the period of uninterrupted Gentile world rule ended in 1914, with the birth of God’s heavenly kingdom with Jesus Christ as king. (Rev. 12:1-5) But there also were other expectations regarding 1914. Concerning these, Brother A. H. Macmillan wrote in his book Faith on the March: “On August 23, 1914, as I well recall, Pastor Russell started on a trip to the Northwest, down the Pacific coast and over into the Southern states, and then ending at Saratoga Springs, New York, where we held a convention September 27-30. That was a highly interesting time because a few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October.”

The idea of going to heaven in 1914 was strong among some Bible Students. “Our thought,” remarks Sister Dwight T. Kenyon, “was that the war would go into revolution and into anarchy. Then those of the anointed or the consecrated at that time would die and be glorified. One night I dreamed that the whole ecclesia (congregation) was on a train going somewhere. There was thunder and lightning, and all at once the friends began dying all around me. I thought that was all right, but try as I would, I couldn’t die. This was quite upsetting! Then all at once I died and felt so relieved and satisfied. I tell this just to show how sure we were that all was going to end soon as far as this old world was concerned and that the remnant of the ‘little flock’ was to be glorified.—Luke 12:32.”

Hazelle and Helen Krull recall that during 1914 discussions at the Bethel dining table often centered on the end of the Gentile Times. From time to time, they say, Brother Russell made extended remarks, urging faithfulness and explaining that the time features had been reviewed and still seemed accurate, but also that “if we were expecting more than what the Scriptures warranted, then we must bow to Jehovah’s will and adjust our minds and hearts in faith to His way, still faithfully watching and waiting for the outworking of associated events.”

An incident at the Saratoga Springs convention in 1914 highlights Brother Macmillan’s view of “going home” to heaven in that year. He wrote: “Wednesday (September 30) I was invited to talk on the subject, ‘The End of All Things Is at Hand; Therefore Let Us Be Sober, Watchful and Pray.’ Well, as one would say, that was down my road. I believed it myself sincerely—that the church was ‘going home’ in October. During that discourse I made this unfortunate remark: ‘This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver because we shall be going home soon.’”

The next morning, October 1, 1914, about five hundred Bible Students enjoyed a lovely ride down the Hudson River on a steamer from Albany to New York. On Sunday the conventioners were to open sessions in Brooklyn, where the assembly would end. Quite a few delegates stayed at Bethel, and, of course, members of the headquarters staff were present at the breakfast table on Friday morning, October 2. Everyone was seated when Brother Russell entered. As usual, he said cheerily, “Good morning, all.” But this particular morning was different. Instead of proceeding promptly to his seat, he clapped his hands and joyfully announced: “The Gentile times have ended; their kings have had their day.” “How we clapped our hands!” exclaims Cora Merrill. Brother Macmillan admitted: “We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward—but of course there was nothing like that, really.” Sister Merrill adds: “After a brief pause he [Russell] said: ‘Anyone disappointed? I’m not. Everything is moving right on schedule!’ Again we clapped our hands.”

C. T. Russell made some remarks, but it was not long before A. H. Macmillan became the object of attention. Good-naturedly, Russell said: “We are going to make some changes in the program for Sunday. At 10:30 Sunday morning Brother Macmillan will give us an address.” That brought hearty laughter from everyone. After all, just that past Wednesday Brother Macmillan had given what he thought would probably be his “last public address.” “Well,” wrote A.H. Macmillan years later, “then I had to get busy to find something to say. I found Psalm 74:9, ‘We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.’ Now that was different. In that talk I tried to show the friends that perhaps some of us had been a bit too hasty in thinking that we were going to heaven right away, and the thing for us to do would be to keep busy in the Lord’s service until he determined when any of his approved servants would be taken home to heaven.”

C. T. Russell himself had warned against private speculations. For instance, he discussed the end of the Gentile Times and then said in The Watch Tower of December 1, 1912: “Finally, let us remember that we did not consecrate [dedicate] either to October, 1914, nor to October, 1915, or to any other date, but ‘unto death.’ If for any reason the Lord has permitted us to miscalculate the prophecies, the signs of the times assure us that the miscalculations cannot be very great. And if the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the future as in the past, according to His promise, we shall rejoice equally to go or to remain at any time, and to be in His service, either on this side the veil or on the other side [on earth or in heaven], as may please our Master best.”

Even as the climactic year 1914 began, Russell wrote in The Watch Tower of January 1: “We may not read the time features with the same absolute certainty as doctrinal features; for time is not so definitely stated in the Scriptures as are the basic doctrines. We are still walking by faith and not by sight. We are, however, not faithless and unbelieving, but faithful and waiting. If later it should be demonstrated that the Church is not glorified by October, 1914, we shall try to feel content with whatever the Lord’s will may be.”

So, there were great expectations concerning 1914 on the part of many of the Bible Students. Yet, they also had received sound admonition in pages of The Watch Tower. Indeed, some Christians thought they were ‘going home’ to heaven in the autumn of that year. “But,” says C. J. Woodworth, “October 1st, 1914, came and went—and years accumulated after that date—and the anointed were still here on earth. Some grew sour and fell away from the truth. Those who put their trust in Jehovah saw 1914 as truly a marked time—the ‘beginning of the end’—but they also realized their previous concept was wrong concerning the ‘glorification of the saints,’ as it was stated. They now perceived that much work yet remained for the faithful anointed ones—and of that group my father [Clayton J. Woodworth] was one.”

But disappointments about going to heaven in 1914 really were very minor, compared with the great expectations realized in connection with that year. During the first six months of 1914, nothing happened to the Gentile nations, though the Bible Students long had pointed out that the Gentile Times would expire in that year. Hence, religious leaders and others ridiculed C. T. Russell and the Watch Tower Society. Yet, Jehovah certainly had not forsaken his people or allowed them to be misled. Moved by his holy spirit, they carried on their witness work, not expecting the end of the Gentile Times until autumn of that year. As the months wore on, tension increased throughout Europe, and still ridicule against the Kingdom message was mounting. When nation after nation became enmeshed in the first world war, however, there was a difference. The work of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses was brought prominently into view.

A typical press reaction of the time appeared in The World, then a leading New York city newspaper. Its Sunday magazine section of August 30, 1914, contained the article “End of All Kingdoms in 1914.” There it was stated, in part:

“The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students,’ best known as ‘Millennial Dawners,’ have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of travelling evangelists who, representing this strange creed, have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ . . .

“Rev. Charles T. Russell is the man who has been propounding this interpretation of the Scriptures since 1874. . . . ‘In view of this strong Bible evidence,’ Rev. Russell wrote in 1889, ‘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.’ . . .

“But to say that the trouble must culminate in 1914—that was peculiar. For some strange reason, perhaps because Rev. Russell has a very calm, higher mathematics style of writing instead of flamboyant soap box manners, the world in general has scarcely taken him into account. The students over in his ‘Brooklyn Tabernacle’ say that this was to be expected, that the world never did listen to divine warnings and never will, until after the day of trouble is past. . . .

“And in 1914 comes war, the war which everybody dreaded but which everybody thought could not really happen. Rev. Russell is not saying ‘I told you so’; and he is not revising the prophecies to suit the current history. He and his students are content to wait—to wait until October, which they figure to be the real end of 1914.”

True, the Bible Students were not ‘taken home’ to heaven in October 1914. But the 2,520-year-long Gentile Times then ended. And, as Jehovah’s servants later realized more fully, they had plenty of work to do after that time right here on earth in preaching the good news of God’s established kingdom. Evidently many would yet respond favorably to Bible truth. Regarding this, Russell wrote in The Watch Tower of February 15, 1915: “There are certain indications that the Lord has a great work for all His people, His watching saints, at the present time. . . . There are some of the Lord’s children who seem possessed with the idea that ‘the door is shut,’ and that there is no further opportunity for service. So they become indolent in regard to the Lord’s work. We should lose no time dreaming that the door is shut! There are people who are seeking the Truth—people who are sitting in darkness. There never was a time like the present. Never have so many people been ready to hear the good Message. In all the forty years of Harvest there have not been such opportunities to proclaim the Truth as now present themselves. The great war and the ominous signs of the times are waking people up, and many are now inquiring. So the Lord’s people should be very diligent, doing with their might what their hands find to do.”

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS