Did The “Alarm Clock” Go Off Too Soon?
Source : The WT Society Dissident Blog.
In my last post I talked about how Russell calculated the end of the gentile times to occur in the year 1914, at which time Christ would put an end to all earthly governments. As it turns out this did not happen. How did those early Bible students handle the disappointment? The next section of chapter 10 of the Proclaimers book has this to say...
*** jv chap. 10 pp. 135-137 Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth ***
Did the “Alarm Clock” Go Off Too Soon?
Great turmoil certainly burst forth upon the world in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, which for many years was called simply the Great War, but it did not immediately lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships. As events in connection with Palestine developed following 1914, the Bible Students thought they saw evidence of significant changes for Israel. But months and then years passed, and the Bible Students did not receive their heavenly reward as they had anticipated. How did they react to that?
The Watch Tower of February 1, 1916, specifically drew attention to October 1, 1914, and then said: “This was the last point of time that Bible chronology pointed out to us as relating to the Church’s experiences. Did the Lord tell us that we would be taken [to heaven] there? No. What did He say? His Word and the fulfil[l]ments of prophecy seemed to point unmistakably that this date marked the end of the Gentile Times. We inferred from this that the Church’s ‘change’ would take place on or before that date. But God did not tell us that it would be so. He permitted us to draw that inference; and we believe that it has proven to be a necessary test upon God’s dear saints everywhere.” But did these developments prove that their glorious hope had been in vain? No. It simply meant that not everything was taking place as soon as they had expected.
Several years before 1914, Russell had written: “Chronology (time prophecies in general) was evidently not intended to give God’s people accurate chronological information all the way down the path of the centuries. Evidently it is intended more to serve as an alarm clock to awaken and energize the Lord’s people at the proper time. . . . But let us suppose, for instance, that October, 1914, should pass and that no serious fall of Gentile power would occur. What would this prove or disprove? It would not disprove any feature of the Divine Plan of the Ages. The ransom-price finished at Calvary would still stand the guarantee of the ultimate fulfillment of the great Divine Program for human restitution. The ‘high calling’ of the Church to suffer with the Redeemer and to be glorified with him as his members or as his Bride would still be the same. . . . The only thing [a]ffected by the chronology would be the time for the accomplishment of these glorious hopes for the Church and for the world. . . . And if that date pass it would merely prove that our chronology, our ‘alarm clock,’ went off a little before the time. Would we consider it a great calamity if our alarm clock awakened us a few moments earlier in the morning of some great day full of joy and pleasure? Surely not!”
But that “alarm clock” had not gone off too soon. Actually, it was the experiences to which the “clock” had awakened them that were not exactly what they had expected.
Some years later, when the light had grown brighter, they acknowledged: “Many of the dear saints thought that all the work was done. . . . They rejoiced because of the clear proof that the world had ended, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that the day of their deliverance drew nigh. But they had overlooked something else that must be done. The good news that they had received must be told to others; because Jesus had commanded: ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.’ (Matthew 24:14)”—The Watch Tower, May 1, 1925.
As the events following 1914 began to unfold and the Bible Students compared these with what the Master had foretold, they gradually came to appreciate that they were living in the last days of the old system and that they had been since 1914. They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 that Christ’s invisible presence had begun and that this was, not by his personally returning (even invisibly) to the vicinity of the earth, but by his directing his attention toward the earth as ruling King. They saw and accepted the vital responsibility that was theirs to proclaim “this good news of the kingdom” for a witness to all nations during this critical time of human history.—Matt. 24:3-14.
What exactly was the message about the Kingdom that they were to preach? Was it any different from the message of the first-century Christians?
The first sentence is a little misleading. "Great turmoil certainly burst forth upon the world in 1914 ... but it did not immediately lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships." Actually not only did it not 'immediately' lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships, it never did. The quote from the Feb 1st 1916 Watchtower makes it seem as though Russell and company had adjusted their thinking in regards to 1914 being the beginning of Christ's invisible return. However, the March 1st, 1916 issue had this comment from Russell:
The Apostle’s words near the close of his Epistle, should
be of special comfort and cheer to us now, in this brief wait-
ing time since the close of Gentile Times. He says, "And
account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation." (2
Peter 3:15) How glad of this little extended time some of
the Lord’s dear ones are, who have come into the knowledge
of present truth and consecrated themselves to God since
October, 1914! And how glad are many of Christ’s followers
who have longer known of these precious truths, that the Lord
has mercifully granted them a little further time to make
their calling and election sure! Perhaps some of these were
not ready when the Gentile Times closed.
So really, even in 1916 there was an expectation that the end of all human government was going to happen soon. The next quote sited as being written 'several years' before 1914 appeared in the January 1st 1911 issue of the Watchtower. The quote selection seems to indicate that it would not be a disappointment if the end of this system of things did not happen in 1914. However, this is the beginning of a new type of message delivery where there are two messages given. One that the writers are not infallible followed by a statement of certainty about some future event. Notice how the paragraph quoted in the Proclaimers book reads in its entirety.
Suppose that our chronological calculations (never set forth
as infallible) should prove to be fallible and in error. Our
conclusion would merely be that the error could not be very
great. Outward signs of restitution multiplying on every hand
tell us that the rising of the Sun of Righteousness is near at
hand. Church federation tendencies attest the same thing,
corroborating the Scriptures respecting the conditions which
will prevail’at the very closing of this age. The movement
amongst the Jews similarly implies an awakening and a prep-
aration for Messiah much in harmony with what we must
expect in the close of this age. The stress along the lines of
social, political and financial affairs all indicate that the
great time of trouble and anarchy with which this age will
end cannot be far off--cannot lie much, if any, beyond October,
1914. And if that date pass it would merely prove that our
chronology, our "alarm clock," went off a little before the
The paragraph begins by stating that the calculations were "never set forth
as infallible", but by the end of the paragraph the writer is back to asserting the correctness of the predictions "The stress along the lines of social, political and financial affairs all indicate that the great time of trouble and anarchy with which this age will end cannot be far off--cannot lie much, if any, beyond October, 1914. And if that date pass it would merely prove that our chronology, our "alarm clock," went off a little before the time." So by 'a little before the time', the writer means that the end would come soon after 1914.
The concept that a prediction for a certain event to happen on a certain date is an 'alarm clock' for the rank and file adherents has been very effective over the years. In a future post, I plan to correlate membership with the various predictions for the end of this system of things to illustrate a reason other than 'the brothers were eager for the new system' as has been printed.
Moving on to the next quote from the May 1st 1925 Watchtower cited in the Proclaimers book: "...But they had overlooked something else that must be done. The good news that they had received must be told to others;... " 'They' being the rank and file members. Once again, see how the Watchtower Society has blamed those who believed what was printed in earlier publications instead of admitting how they were completely wrong about the date?
Next we read from the Proclaimers book:
They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 that Christ’s invisible presence had begun and that this was, not by his personally returning (even invisibly) to the vicinity of the earth, but by his directing his attention toward the earth as ruling King.
This is merely an extension to the technique used in 1874 only this time in addition to Christ's invisible return (which has been moved to 1914 ), they also decided that He did in fact begin ruling in heaven. The problem is that they only 'came to realize' these things after what they had been confident about previously did not come to pass. Is it not reasonable to insist that the group of men claiming to be God's sole channel of information from Jehovah be accurate in advance?
Next the leaders of these Bible students had to figure out the direction that the organization would take. After the death of Russell, a man named J. F. 'Judge' Rutherford became president of the Watchtower Society where he moved the focus from predicting dates ( well, he did make some predictions ) to evangelizing. Why did he shift the focus and what was the result? I'll cover that in my next post.