Part 2: Statements Concerning 1799, 1874 and 1914
Statements Concerning 1799
The book The Time Is At Hand, 1916 edition, page ii, (forward), said:
The Bible chronology therin presented show that the six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th Day, the 1000 years of Christ's Reign, began in 1873.
The book The Day of Vengeance (The Battle of Armageddon), 1897, page 621 said:
Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874.
The 1921 book The Harp of God said on page 236:
"The time of the end" embraces a period from 1799 A.D., as above indicated, to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan's empire and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah. The time of the Lord's second presence dates from 1874, as above stated. The latter period is within the first named, of course, and in the latter part of the period known as "the time of the end."
After describing the development of Bible Societies, the increase of colleges and all kinds of inventions, the Harp of God, on page 239, says of them:
This is without question a fulfilment of the prophecy testifying to the "time of the end." These physical facts can not be disputed and are sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that we have been in the "time of the end" since 1799.
Note that anything that is "without question" is logically infallible. The word "infallible" is not used, but to all intents and purposes the claim is made. And if any doubt or are not convinced, well, they simply do not have a "reasonable mind."
In a similar fashion the March 1, 1922 Watch Tower said:
The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the "time of the end" began in 1799; that the Lord's second presence began in 1874.
The book Creation, 1927, pages 294, 295, 298 said:
Twelve hundred and sixty years from 539 A.D. brings us to 1799, which is another proof that 1799 definitely marks the beginning of "the time of the end." From shortly after 1799, the date of the beginning of "the time of the end," we should expect to find an increase of knowledge, particularly with reference to the Bible.
There are two important dates here that we must not confuse, but clearly differentiate; namely, the beginning of "the time of the end" and the beginning of the presence of the Lord. "The time of the end" embraces a period from 1799 A.D. to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan's empire and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah. The time of the Lord's second presence dates from 1874 and is during the latter part of the period known as "the time of the end."
The book Prophecy, 1929, pages 65-66, said:
.... the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D. This proof is specifically set out in the booklet entitled Our Lord's Return.
Russell and 1914
Despite what many of 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. Neither 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. At the same time God would cause the break-up of all earthly kingdoms and would substitute theocratic rule during the rest of the Millennium. Russell believed that God would restore mankind to perfection -- he would not destroy them in the Battle of Armageddon, because that had already started 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 of the 1903 edition 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," (p. 308) the "Day of Wrath" (p. 308), the "Day of the Lord" (p. 324, 334, 336, 337), and the "Day of Trouble" (p. 336).
The Divine Plan of the Ages 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.
In the foreword to the 1916 edition of The Time Is At Hand Russell admitted that his predictions had not come to pass (p. x):
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 effect upon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord -- even for the mistake.
Russell believed that he and his followers were God's special servants, referring to them as "saints." He said of them, on page 338:
An important question arises regarding the duty of the saints during this trouble, and their proper attitude toward the two opposing classes now coming into prominence. That some of the saints will still be in the flesh during at least a part of this burning time seems possible....
Note also what Russell 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....
See the quotation from page 101 below for a statement that the setting up of the Kingdom of God had already begun exercising power in 1878, and that (this was written in 1889) "we are in the very midst of" the events of the "Day of the Lord."
The Time Is At Hand, (originally published in 1889), said concerning the Times of the Gentiles, on pages 76-77 (early 1912 Edition):
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.
Note that the above is from a pre-1912 edition. Late 1912 and subsequent editions edited some of the statements thus:
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 will see the disintegration of the rule of imperfect men.
Firstly, That at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, "Thy Kingdom come," will begin to assume control, and that it will then shortly be "set up," or firmly established....
Thirdly, It will prove that some time before the end of the overthrow the last member of the divinely recognized Church of Christ....
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 post-1912 editions edited the second paragraph to read:
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 near the end of A.D. 1915.
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 1908 edition of 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 [Later editions of The Time Is At Hand changed this1 to 1915] 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 Society also tends to minimize the force with which Russell predicted the events for 1914. Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose said on page 52, under the sub-title "Sound Warning Against Speculation":
TOM: You stated earlier that Pastor Russell was not too certain as to exactly what would take place in 1914. Was that the general attitude of the Witnesses at that time?
JOHN: There is no doubt that many throughout this period were overzealous in their statements as to what could be expected. Some read into the Watch Tower statements that were never intended, and while it was necessary for Russell to call attention to the certainty that a great change was due at the end of the Gentile times, he still encouraged his readers to keep an open mind, especially as regards the time element. We might read a number of different excerpts from the Watch Tower over the years to demonstrate this. For instance, as early as 1885 Russell writes in the Watch Tower:
Storm clouds are gathering thick over the old world. It looks as though a great European war is one of the possibilities of the near future.
Apparently the author means that using the word "possibilities" is a warning against speculation.
Then follows a rather drastic picture of the world situation....
The material JWDP next quotes speaks of great changes, but contains no warnings against speculation. However, the picture JWDP paints is somewhat different from what the quoted Watch Tower actually does:
Overproduction has for the moment clogged the wheels of trade the world over, and a halt is called by producers from fear of loss. The result is first felt by the wageworkers, so many of whom live "from hand to mouth." Unrest is now more quickly developed than formerly in this class because of a wider range of knowledge. Large gatherings of men have assembled in London and Paris lately demanding that some public improvements be prosecuted to afford them work....
Thus one thing leads to another and somewhat so only worse and worse it will be throughout the "time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation" until these present governments with their prince... falsely called "Kingdoms of God" shall fall before the true kindgom, and the dominion under the whole heavens shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high God.
The picture painted is that war is a very strong possibility, in the very near future, not some thirty years later, and that the time the article was written, 1885, was right in the middle of the "time of trouble." Remember that The Divine Plan of the Ages had said that the "time of trouble" had begun with the beginning of Christ's millennial reign (p. 336) in 1874. Russell began changing his view on the nearness of war during the early 1890s.
Next, JWDP says:
In 1893 the Watch Tower stated:
A great storm is near at hand. Though one may not know exactly when it will break forth, it seems reasonable to suppose that it cannot be more than twelve or fourteen years yet future.
The idea seems to be that the statement "one may not know exactly when it will break forth" is cautionary. This is from page 194 of the July 1-15, 1893 Zion's Watch Tower, but the Watch Tower Reprints did not reproduce the page. However, the original Watch Tower contained the above quotation under the subtitle "Harvest Work Before the Storm," and this article talked about the time from 1874 through 1914, when Russell claimed that a forty year harvest work was to be done. Sometime well before 1914, i.e., by 1905 to 1907 according to the above quotation, "a great storm" was to break that would culminate in the final overthrow of all human institutions by 1914. So rather than warning against speculation, this quotation was fanning the fires. This is seen even more clearly in another statement on the same page:
Some may be inclined to think that the harvest work is largely done; but probably the larger portion of this work is to be done in the coming six or eight years.
No Chance of Error
The September 1 and 15, 1893 Watch Tower is quite revealing as to Russell's view of what would happen before 1914, and that 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 15, 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.
Next, JWDP quotes from the February 15, 1894 Watch Tower, but the quotation merely refers to great changes, not to avoiding speculation.
The next quotation JWDP offers, from the June 11, 1894 Watch Tower, page 162 (not reproduced in Watch Tower Reprints) does not talk of avoiding speculation. It is surprising that the quotation is reproduced, because it pretty well deflates JWDP's argument.
"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 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, which JWDP did not quote:
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.
In the light of history it is evident that Russell himself indulged in wild speculation, since nearly all his chronology has been abandoned and all of it has failed. He indulged in this speculation even while claiming to be God's mouthpiece. In the July 15, 1906 Watch Tower, on page 229, he wrote:
Many are the inquiries relative to the truths presented in MILLENNIAL DAWN and ZION'S WATCH TOWER, as to whence they came and how they developed to their present symmetrical and beautiful proportions -- Were they the results of visions? Did God in any supernatural way grant the solution of these hitherto mysteries of his plan? Are the writers more than ordinary beings? Do they claim any supernatural wisdom or power? or how comes this revelation of God's truth?
No, dear friends, I claim nothing of superiority, nor supernatural power, dignity or authority; nor do I aspire to exalt myself in the estimation of my brethren of the household of faith....
No, the truths I present, as God's mouthpiece, were not revealed in visions or dreams nor by God's audible voice, nor all at once, but gradually, especially since 1870, and particularly since 1880. Neither is this clear unfolding of truth due to any human ingenuity or acuteness of perception, but to the simple fact that God's due time has come; and if I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out.
A number of times Russell clearly implied that he could not possibly be wrong. Zion's Watch Tower, July 15, 1894, said on page 226 (p. 1677 Reprints), under the subtitle "Can It Be Delayed Until 1914?":
Seventeen years ago people said, concerning the time features presented in MILLENIAL DAWN, They seem reasonable in many respects, but surely no such radical changes could occur between now and the close of 1914: if you had proved that they would come about in a century or two, it would seem much more probable.
What changes have since occurred, and what velocity is gained daily?
"The old is quickly passing and the new is coming in."
Now, in view of recent labor troubles and threatened anarchy, our readers are writing to know if there may not be a mistake in the 1914 date. They say that they do not see how present conditions can hold out so long under the strain.
We see no reason for changing the figures -- nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God's dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble. We see no reason for changing from our opinion expressed in the view presented in the WATCH TOWER of January 15, '92. We advise that it be read again.
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.
If the scriptural testimony was "unmistakable," and if Russell was presenting "God's dates," and he was "God's mouthpiece," of what value would be any admonitions against speculation, since he was the source of it? Who would doubt "God's dates"? Note that nearly all his chronology has been proved false.
The Watch Tower continues:
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.
The October 1, 1904 Zion's Watch Tower, on pages 296-8 (pp. 3436-8 Reprints) printed a letter from a man who pointed out that Russell's chronology conflicted with data given by Ptolemy's Canon, and that he understood that Russell's view of the Gentile times had changed. Russell responded at length, pointing out that changing his chronology by even one year would throw it completely out of whack. He emphasized his faith in his figures:
We know of no reason for changing a figure: to do so would spoil the harmonies and parallels so conspicuous between the Jewish and Gospel ages.... The brother seems to further misunderstand us to teach that no great trouble will come before October, 1914 A.D. This is incorrect: we expect the great trouble of Rev. 13:15-17 before that date....
One question about Russell's chronology came up as early as 1904 -- what about the "zero year"? Was the length of time from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. one year, or two? Russell discussed this, as well as summarizing its application to his chronology, in the December 1, 1912 Watch Tower, pages 377-8. He was evidently rather confused about it, and said that the end of the times of the Gentiles could come in either 1914 or 1915. He also toned down his statements considerably compared with earlier ones. This shows clearly that it was only as 1914 approached that he really can be said to have warned against speculation.
Since this question is agitating the minds of a considerable number of the friends, we have presented it here in some detail. We remind the readers, however, that nothing in the Scriptures says definitely that the trouble upon the Gentiles will be accomplished before the close of the Times of the Gentiles, whether that be October, 1914, or October, 1915. The trouble doubtless will be considerable before the final crash, even though that crash come suddenly, like the casting of a great millstone into the sea. (Rev. 18:21) The parallel between the Jewish harvest and the present harvest would corroborate the thought that the trouble to the full will be accomplished by October, 1915.
Many of our readers will recall our reference to this subject in a sermon preached at Allegheny, Pa., January 11, 1904, and published in the Pittsburgh Gazette. We make an extract from that sermon as follows: --
"We find, then, that the Seven Times of Israel's punishment and the Seven Times of Gentile dominion are the same; and that they began with the captivity of Zedekiah, and, as will be seen from the Chart, they terminate with the year 1915. According to the best obtainable evidences on the subject, synchronized with the Scriptural testimony, Zedekiah's captivity took place in October, 605 3/4 years before A.D. 1. If we will add to this 1914 3/4 years, we will have the year, October, 1915, as the date for the end of Gentile supremacy in the world -- the end of the lease of 2,520 years, which will not be renewed. Instead, he whose right the kingdom is, shall take possession of it. This, therefore, marks when the Lord himself shall assume control of the world's affairs, to end its reign of sin and death, and to bring in the True Light."
There surely is room for slight differences of opinion on this subject and it behooves us to grant each other the widest latitude. The lease of power to the Gentiles may end in October, 1914, or in October, 1915. And the period of intense strife and anarchy "such as never was since there was a nation" may be the final ending of the Gentile Times or the beginning of Messiah's reign. [See Vol. 2, SCRIPTURE STUDIES.]
But we remind all of our readers again, that we have not prophesied anything about the Times of the Gentiles closing in a time of trouble nor about the glorious epoch which will shortly follow that catastrophe. We have merely pointed out what the Scriptures say, giving our views respecting their meaning and asking our readers to judge, each for himself, what they signify. These prophecies still read the same to us. Should we ever see reason for changing our belief, be assured we will be prompt to advise you respecting the same and give you the reason for it. However some may make positive statements of what they know, and of what they do not know, we never indulge in this; but we merely state that we believe thus and so, for such and such reasons.
Many disposed to cavil at every statement of faith respecting the time and ending of this age and the dawning of the new age are very positive in their assertions. Some of them declare that surely the end of this age cannot come for fifty thousand years yet. Others, with equal positiveness, declare that it may happen at any moment. Neither one gives any Scriptural proof. Then why should either of them criticize us for merely presenting the Scripture testimonies and our opinions respecting the signification of them, with the request that others investigate and form each his own opinion?
Russell really wanted to have it both ways: those in the "household of faith" were to judge for themselves whether his predictions were correct, but any who decided they were not would have been "lacking faith," as shown below. He did not "prophesy," because that means "inspiration," and he did not have "knowledge," because that means absolute certainty, but he did have God's backing in what he said because he was "God's mouthpiece."
This is perfectly illustrated by what the October 1, 1907, Watch Tower said, seven years before 1914, in the article "Knowledge and Faith Regarding Chronology," page 295:
A dear Brother inquires, Can we feel absolutely sure that the Chronology set forth in the DAWN-STUDIES is correct? -- that the harvest began in A.D. 1874 and will end in A.D. 1914 in a world wide trouble which will overthrow all present institutions and be followed by the reign of righteousness of the King of Glory and his bride, the church?
We answer, as we have frequently done before in the DAWNS and TOWERS and orally and by letter, that we have never claimed our calculations to be infallibly correct; we have never claimed that they were knowledge, nor based upon indisputable evidence, facts, knowledge; our claim has always been that they are based on faith.
The dates no longer seem to be "God's dates"; they might be fallible. This same article, however, goes on to imply that those doubting such calculations were lacking in faith. It should be asked: Faith in God or faith in Russell's predictions? The article says:
We remind you again that the weak points of chronology are supplemented by the various prophecies which interlace with it in so remarkable a manner that faith in the chronology almost becomes knowledge that it is correct. The changing of a single year would throw the beautiful parallels out of accord; because some of the prophecies measure from B.C., some from A.D., and some depend upon both. We believe that God meant those prophecies to be understood "in due time"; we believe that we do understand them now -- and they speak to us through this chronology. Do they not thereby seal the chronology? They do to faith, but not otherwise. Our Lord declared, "The wise shall understand"; and he told us to "Watch" that we might know; and it is this chronology which convinces us (who can and do receive it by faith) that the Parable of the Ten Virgins is now in process of fulfilment -- that its first cry was heard in 1844 and its second cry, "Behold the Bridegroom" -- present -- was in 1874.
How beneficial is it -- or for that matter, how much humility does it demonstrate -- to acknowledge fallibility while at the same time implying that only those who accept one's views are showing faith, are among "the wise who shall understand"? Would not those failing to heed these "cries" of 1844 and 1874 be classed logically with the "foolish virgins" of the parable?
The Society has not changed its practices in this regard. In fact it is much more severe than in Russell's time. If one publicly even mentions the possibility of the Society's being wrong at present, he is liable to be labelled "apostate" and disfellowshipped. Is the Society not "talking out of both sides of its mouth at the same time"?
In view of all the above, which shows what Russell really had in mind during the time from the 1870s through 1916, note how hollow the explanation of how Russell warned against speculation sounds, from JWDP, page 53:
In 1912 Russell sounded a special warning to offset any private wild speculations as to 1914. He wrote:
[Material from December 1, 1912 Watch Tower mentioned above is quoted here]
So these early watchers were reasonably certain of some things that were due to take place when 1914 arrived. Exactly how the prophecies were to be fulfilled was not altogether clear, but evidences were increasing steadily that this was to be a marked date in earth's history.
It is truly amazing how much distortion can be fit into so few words. Russell wrote a few weak warnings about private speculation prior to about 1904, but was absolutely confident of his chronology. It was only after 1904 that he became even faintly cautious, as the following material makes clear. By not telling the reader the full story of what Russell believed, JWDP misleads the reader into believing something quite different from what he would have otherwise believed.
Marvin L. Lubenow is a creationist and professor of Bible and apologetics at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California. The college is the parent body of the Institute for Creation Research. In his book Bones of Contention Lubenow took evolutionists to task for not quite telling the truth about certain human-like fossil discoveries:2
It is possible to lie by telling the truth. It is done often. Suppose a man owes you one hundred dollars. Because you need the money, you call him to find out when he can pay you. His wife answers the phone and tells you that he is out. You take that to mean that he is unavailable. You don't know that he is standing just outside the front door of his house so that his wife can "honestly" say that he is "out." She justifies herself in that she technically told the truth. But she really lied, because she intended that you would think that "out" meant "unavailable." She lied by telling the truth.
As a side point, the Society likes to claim that C. T. Russell predicted World War I. For example Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, on pages 54-55, quoted an article from a newspaper called The World, which said:
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 "Millenial 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 traveling evangelists who, representing this strange creed, have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that "the Kingdom of God is at hand."
The February 1, 1969 Watchtower, on pages 71-72, quoted the same publication, as did the October 8, 1973 Awake!.
But remember, The Divine Plan of the Ages said (p. 307-8) that the "Day of Wrath" was the same as the "Day of Jehovah," the "Day of Vengeance," and the "Day of the Lord," which began in 1874. Additionally, The Time Is At Hand, quoted above, said on page 99:
.... 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.
This means that Russell expected, not a World War beginning in 1914, but the annihilation of all kingdoms not later than 1914. The Society did not begin to claim that Russell had predicted World War I until some years after 1914, because Russell thought the outbreak of World War I was the beginning of Armageddon (see below).
This is reflected clearly in the picture of the article in The World Magazine of August 30, 1914, which is reproduced on pages 5-6 of the April 1, 1984 Watchtower. The headline reads "End Of All Kingdoms In 1914". The October 8, 1973 Awake! also reproduced a picture of the article, but cropped the headline.
Interestingly, The World Magazine article gives the impression that Russell had foreseen the war. But the intimate knowledge of Russell's writings going back some forty years, and the ability to select suitable statements from them indicates that the author of the article either was a close collaborator of Russell or got his material from one. It would be extremely unlikely for a neutral journalist to be so well versed in Russell's writings. A neutral writer would certainly have included the material quoted above, which clearly shows Russell's thinking.
This episode calls to mind what happened to an article in the February 22, 1977 Awake! A statement about earthquake data (page 11) was picked up and published in a slightly altered form in an Italian journal, Il Piccolo, of October 8, 1978. Then Il Piccolo's near duplication of Awake!'s statement was in turn picked up by The Watchtower of June 15, 1979, (page 11) and used as an authoritative "neutral" reference on earthquake data. The statement was used in Watchtower publications at least ten times through 1985, the last being in Did Man Get Here By Evolution? Or By Creation?
In 1916 Russell announced in the September 1, 1916 Watch Tower, on page 265, that Armageddon had already started:
In the meantime, our eyes of understanding should discern clearly the Battle of the Great Day of God Almighty now in progress.
In 1917 the Society published Pastor Russell's Sermons, which said on page 676:
The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the Scriptures.
Contrast the above statements about when Armageddon started with ones from material published well before 1914:
Zion's Watch Tower, January 15, 1892, pages 21-23, 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 it is clear that for a long time prior to 1914 Russell said that Armageddon is "already in progress," but after 1914 he said it started in 1914.
Refer back to the quotations from the January 15, 1892 and July 15, 1894 Watch Towers, on page 30. What do these quotations and the above paragraphs do to the Society's present claim that "no one foresaw World War I" prior to 1914? Russell stated clearly that conditions were ripe for a major conflagration. JWDP even said on page 53:
An explosive atmosphere of national rivalry was developed all over the world, and the feverish campaign of the political and commercial rulers in their mad armaments race was being fully supported by the clergy of all lands. France and Germany were piling up an enormous war potential, while Britain and the United States were fortifying themselves also.... Truly mankind's masses were being herded into camps of war. Satan, as ruler of this world, was gathering his forces for the end he knew must come in 1914.
This is confirmed by many other statements Russell made and which are quoted in this writeup. For example, The Watch Tower, May 1, 1914, said on page 134:
There is absolutely no ground for Bible students to question that the consummation of this gospel age is now even at the door, and that it will end as the Scriptures foretell in a great time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. We see the participants in this great crisis banding themselves together.... The great crisis, the great clash, symbolically represented as a fire, that will consume the ecclesiastical heavens and the social earth, is very near.
Yet, based on Rev. 6:4 the Society now claims that peace and security were suddenly taken from the earth in 1914. That scripture talks about a rider on a fiery colored horse to whom "there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another," which ride the Society says began in 1914. To prove this the Society quotes, not historians, but a couple of elderly statesmen and two of Jehovah's Witnesses. The two statesmen have often been referred to in Watchtower Society publications, as they in their old age remembered their youth as a time of peace, security, and optimism, something which "suddenly, unexpectedly" disappeared in 1914, according to the May 1, 1982 Watchtower, page 14. Similarly, the May 8, 1981 Awake!, page 6, quotes Ewart Chitty, who was 16 years old when the war broke out, and George Hannan, who was 15 at the time. Hannan stated that "Nobody expected World War I.... People had been saying that the world had become too civilized for war. But world war came out of nowhere, like a bolt from the blue." So which claim is right, the one in JWDP or the ones in the 1981-2 publications?
The above material shows how the Society viewed world conditions in 1892 as clear proof that the world was then about to enter its final throes, with its last gasp coming in 1914. While it is true that the word "opinion" is here used, how meaningful is this when at the same time God is brought into the picture as backing up the dates set forth? Who would be inclined to doubt "God's dates"?
The 1904 book, The New Creation, said on page 579:
According to our expectations the stress of the great time of trouble will be on us soon, somewhere between 1910 and 1912 -- culminating with the end of the "Times of the Gentiles," October 1914.
The beginning of the severity of the trouble is not distinctly marked in the Scriptures, and is rather conjectural. We infer that so great a trouble, so world-wide a catastrophe, could scarcely be accomplished in less than three years, and that if it lasted much more than three years "no flesh would be saved."
Russell edited some of the Studies in the Scriptures volumes as things did not pan out as he expected. He did not call the changed volumes "revised" editions. For example:
The 1906 edition of Vol. 3, Thy Kingdom Come, said on page 228:
That the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest.... Just how long before 1914 the last living member of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed.
The 1916 edition of Vol. 3, Thy Kingdom Come, said on page 228 (changes from the 1906 edition are emphasized):
That the deliverance of the saints must take place very soon after 1914 is manifest.... Just how long after 1914 the last living member of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed.
As 1914 approached Russell changed and toned down some of his opinions. The July 1, 1904 Watch Tower said, under the title "Universal Anarchy -- Just Before or After October, 1914 A.D.," on pages 197-8:
What seems at first glance the veriest trifle and wholly unrelated to the matter, has changed our conviction respecting the time when universal anarchy may be expected in accord with the prophetic numbers. We now expect that the anarchistic culmination of the great time of trouble which will precede the Millenial blessings will be after October, 1914, A.D. -- very speedily thereafter, in our opinion -- "in one hour," "suddenly," because "our forty years" harvest, ending October, 1914 A.D., should not be expected to include the awful period of anarchy which the Scriptures point out to be the fate of Christendom.
And whereas in 1894 he had affirmed that the figures expounded were "God's dates, not ours," in the October 1, 1907, Watch Tower, seven years before 1914, he now said in the article "Knowledge and Faith Regarding Chronology", page 295 (see page 34 for the full quotation):
Can we feel absolutely sure that the Chronology set forth in the DAWN-STUDIES is correct? -- that the harvest began in A.D. 1874 and will end in A.D. 1914...?.... We answer... that we have never claimed our calculations to be infallibly correct; we have never claimed that they were knowledge, nor based upon indisputable evidence, facts, knowledge; our claim has always been that they are based on faith.
Interestingly, the same 1907 Watch Tower article acknowledged the vulnerability of Russell's chronology:
.... Suppose that A.D. 1915 should pass with the world's affairs all serene and with evidence that the "very elect" had not all been "changed" and without the restoration of natural Israel to favor under the New Covenant (Rom. 11:12,15). What then? Would not that prove our chronology wrong? Yes, surely! Would not that prove a keen disappointment? Indeed it would! It would work irreparable wreck to the parallel dispensations and Israel's double, and to the Jubilee calculations, and to the prophecy of the 2300 days of Daniel, and to the epoch called "Gentile Times," and to the 1,260, 1,290, and 1,335 days.... none of these would be available longer.
The world was not serene in 1915, but is one out of three predictions good enough to base one's faith on?
By 1912 Russell had become even more cautious. The December 1, 1912 Watch Tower showed how much less positive he was about the calculations (see above for a full quotation). What were once "God's dates" had become "our opinions."
By 1913 Russell had become more cautious yet. In the article "Let Your Moderation Be Known," in the June 1, 1913 Watch Tower, page 167, he warned his readers against spending "valuable time and energy in guessing what will take place this year, next year, etc." Apparently he had lost much of his earlier confidence: "This is the good tidings of God's grace in Christ -- whether the completion of the church shall be accomplished before 1914 or not."
Russell really began waffling in the October 15 issue of the same year, pages 303-307:
We are waiting for the time to come when the government of the world will be turned over to Messiah. We cannot say that it may not be either October 1914 or October 1915. It is possible that we might be out of the correct reckoning on the subject a number of years. We cannot say with certainty. We do not know. It is a matter of faith, and not of knowledge.
Russell's tottering faith in his chronology was further brought to light in the Watch Tower of January 1, 1914, pages 1-5:
As already pointed out, we are by no means confident that this year, 1914, will witness as radical and swift changes of dispensation as we have expected. It is beyond the power of our imagination to picture an accomplishment in one year of all that the Scriptures seem to imply should be expected before the reign of peace is ushered in.... 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.... If 1915 should go by without the passage of the church, without the time of trouble, etc., it would seem to some to be a great calamity. It would not be so with ourself.... If in the Lord's providence the time should come twenty-five years later, then that would be our will.... If October, 1915, should pass, and we should find ourselves still here and matters going on very much as they are at present, and the world apparently making progress in the way of settling disputes, and there were no time of trouble in sight, and the nominal church were not yet federated, etc., we would say that evidently we have been out somewhere in our reckoning. In that event we would look over the prophecies further, to see if we could find an error. And then we would think, Have we been expecting the wrong thing at the right time? The Lord's will might permit this.
Then in the May 1, 1914 issue, Russell, again forgetting his earlier positive statements, told his readers that
in these columns and in the six volumes of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES we have set forth everything appertaining to the times and seasons in a tentative form; that is to say, not with positiveness, not with the claim that we knew, but with the suggestion that "thus and so" seems to be the teaching of the Bible.
Two months later Russell seemed to be on the point of rejecting his chronology altogether. Answering a colporteur, who wanted to know if the Studies in the Scriptures were to be circulated after October, 1914, Russell said:
.... since you have some doubts respecting the full accomplishment of all expected by or before October, 1914,.... It is our thought that these books will be on sale and read for years in the future, provided the Gospel age and its work continue.... We have not attempted to say that these views are infallible, but have stated the processes of reasoning and figuring, leaving to each reader the duty and privilege of reading, thinking, and figuring for himself. That will be an interesting matter a hundred years from now; and if he can figure and reason better, he will still be interested in what we have presented.
Thus Russell now seemed ready to accept the thought that the 1914 date probably was a failure, and that his writings on the matter were going to be merely of historical interest to Bible students a hundred years later!
But then World War I broke out, and Russell's confidence in the chronology quickly recovered. Although the war itself did not fit into the predicted pattern of events -- that the time of trouble would be a class struggle between capital and labor, leading up to a period of worldwide anarchy -- he saw in the War the prelude to that situation. In the August 15, 1914 Watch Tower he wrote:
Socialism is, we believe, the main factor in the war now raging and which will be earth's greatest and most terrible war -- and probably the last.
Later, in the November 1, 1914 Watch Tower Russell wrote:
We think that the present distress amongst the nations is merely the beginning of this time of trouble.... The anarchy that will follow this war will be the real time of trouble.... Our thought is that the war will so weaken the nations that following it there will be an attempt to bring in Socialistic ideas, and that this will be met by the governments -- etc., leading up to worldwide class struggle and anarchy.
Further, although the city of Jerusalem was still trodden down by the Gentiles, Russell argued that the Gentile times had ended:
The treading down of the Jews has stopped. All over the world the Jews are free -- even in Russia. On September 5, the Czar of Russia issued a proclamation to all the Jews of the Russian Empire; and this was before the times of the Gentiles had expired. It stated that the Jews might have access to the highest ranks in the Russian army, and that the Jewish religion was to have the same freedom as any other religion in Russia. Where are the Jews being trodden down now? Where are they being subjected to scorn? At present they are receiving no persecution whatever. We believe that the treading down of Jerusalem has ceased, because the time for the Gentiles to tread down Israel has ended.
A. H. Macmillan, on pages 47 and 48 of his 1957 book Faith on the March, relates what happened in October, 1914:
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.... Quite a number of the conventioners stayed at Bethel, the home of the headquarters staff members. Friday morning (October 2) we were all seated at the breakfast table when Russell came down.... But this morning, instead of proceeding to his seat as usual, he briskly clapped his hands and happily announced: "The Gentile Times have ended; the kings have had their day." We all applauded.
The Society has often quoted this passage, since A. H. Macmillan was one of the men jailed along with J. F. Rutherford in 1918, and he had enough respect within the headquarters staff to be able to write his book with the blessing of N. H. Knorr and using the facilities of the Watchtower Society libraries. But Macmillan gives a false impression of what was happening. More than "a few" of the Bible Students thought they were going to heaven for the very good reason that Russell had been preaching this for many years -- with later reservations it is true. When nothing happened in 1914 the way Russell had expected, many left his movement.
From the outbreak of World War I and up to his death on October 31, 1916, Russell's restored confidence in his chronology remained unshaken, as demonstrated by the following extracts from various issues of the Watch Tower during the period:
September 1, 1914: While it is possible that Armageddon may begin next Spring, yet it is purely speculation to attempt to say just when. We see, however, that there are parallels between the close of the Jewish age and this Gospel age. These parallels seem to point to the year just before us -- particularly the early months.
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.
September 15, 1915: Tracing the Scriptural chronology down to our day, we find that we are now living in the very dawn of the great seventh day of man's great week. This is abundantly corroborated by the events now taking place about us on every hand.
February 15, 1916: In STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES, Vol. IV, we have clearly pointed out the things now transpiring, and the worse conditions yet to come.
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.
After Russell's death, the Society published Pastor Russell's Sermons in 1917, which said on page 676:
The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the Scriptures. (Rev. 16:16-20.) It will eventuate in the complete overthrow of all the systems of error which have so long oppressed the people of God and deluded the world.... We believe the present war cannot last much longer until revolution shall break out.
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 he wrote, exercising extreme hindsight, on page iii:
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 effect upon 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 very convenient escape from having to shoulder the true 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." That 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.
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.
The book Light I, 1930, page 194, well described the effects of the failed predictions:
All of the Lord's people looked forward to 1914 with joyful expectation. When that time came and passed there was much disappointment, chagrin and mourning, and the Lord's people were greatly in reproach. They were ridiculed by the clergy and their allies in particular, and pointed to with scorn, because they had said so much about 1914, and what would come to pass, and their 'prophecies' had not been fulfilled.
After the lapse of some years, J. F. Rutherford began the process of replacing Russell's unfulfilled predictions with a series of invisible and spiritual events associated with the years 1914 and 1918. By the early 1930s the process was complete.
An interesting comment on this transformation is made by Carl Sagan in Broca's Brain, pages 332-333:
Doctrines that make no predictions are less compelling than those which make correct predictions; they are in turn more successful than doctrines that make false predictions.
But not always. One prominent American religion confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914. Well, 1914 has come and gone, and -- while the events of that year were certainly of some importance -- the world does not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended. There are at least three responses that an organized religion can make in the face of such a failed and fundamental prophecy. They could have said, "Oh, did we say '1914'? So sorry, we meant '2014.' A slight error in calculation. Hope you weren't inconvenienced in any way." But they did not. They could have said, "Well, the world would have ended, except we prayed very hard and interceded with God so He spared the Earth." But they did not. Instead, they did something much more ingenious. They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn't noticed, that was our lookout. It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all. But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough-mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration were needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry.3
1 Compare editions prior to mid-1912 with editions after mid-1912, p. 101. The change was done in the middle of the printing run for the 1912 edition of 1,209,000. The March 1, 1915 Watch Tower called attention to some of these changes, on page 5649 of Reprints. It said: "We call attention to a few slight changes which have been made in four pages of Vol. II. and six pages of Vol. III., 'STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES.' These are all trivial and do not alter the real sense and lesson, but conform to the facts as we have them today." Then are listed the changes pointed out above, from pages 77-81 of The Time Is At Hand, but for some reason the changes on pages 99-101 are not listed. As to the claim that the real sense is not altered, the reader may judge for himself. The proper way of handling changes such as these is to label the changed books as "Revised Editions."
2 Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention, pp. 103-4, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992.
3 Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain, p. 332, Ballantine Books, New York, 1979.