Here is some of what was written in the Proclaims Book regarding Witness expectations in 1914, 1925, 1975. It's a bit long, but I wanted to include enough for you get a clear picture of what the Society wrote and how open they are about mistakes made. I have also kept it free from my own comments so that you make your own conclusions.
1874 – Beginning of the Presence of Christ
*** jv 46-7 5 Proclaiming the Lord's Return (1870-1914) ***
Russell had shied away from Biblical time prophecies. Now, however, he wondered: “Could it be that the time prophecies which I had so long despised, because of their misuse by Adventists, were really meant to indicate when the Lord would be invisibly present to set up his Kingdom?” With his insatiable thirst for Scriptural truth, Russell had to learn more. So he arranged to meet with Barbour in Philadelphia. This meeting confirmed their agreement on a number of Bible teachings and provided an opportunity for them to exchange views. “When we first met,” Russell later stated, “he had much to learn from me on the fulness of restitution based upon the sufficiency of the ransom given for all, as I had much to learn from him concerning time.” Barbour succeeded in convincing Russell that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874.
*** jv 60 5 Proclaiming the Lord's Return (1870-1914) ***
Meanwhile, what about October 1914? For decades Russell and his associates had been proclaiming that the Gentile Times would end in 1914. Expectations were high. C. T. Russell had been critical of those who had set various dates for the Lord’s return, such as William Miller and some Second Adventist groups. Yet, from the time of his early association with Nelson Barbour, he was convinced that there was an accurate chronology, based on the Bible, and that it pointed to 1914 as the end of the Gentile Times.
As that significant year approached, there were great expectations among the Bible Students, but not all that they expected had been directly stated in Scripture. What would happen?
*** jv 61-3 6 A Time of Testing (1914-1918) ***
“Let us remember that we are in a testing season. . . . If there is any reason that would lead any to let go of the Lord and His Truth and to cease sacrificing for the Lord’s Cause, then it is not merely the love of God in the heart which has prompted interest in the Lord, but something else; probably a hoping that the time was short; the consecration was only for a certain time. If so, now is a good time to let go.”
THOSE words, appearing in The Watch Tower of November 1, 1914, could not have been more appropriate. The years from 1914 to 1918 did, indeed, prove to be “a testing season” for the Bible Students. Some of the tests came from within; others came from outside. All of them, though, tested the Bible Students in ways that revealed whether they really had ‘the love of God in their hearts.’ Would they hold on to “the Lord and His Truth” or let go?
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. That assassination triggered the outbreak of the Great War, as World War I was originally called. The fighting began in August 1914 when Germany swept into Belgium and France. By the autumn of that year, the bloodbath was well under way.
“The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day”! So exclaimed Brother Russell as he entered the dining room at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Watch Tower Society the morning of Friday, October 2, 1914. Excitement was high. Most of those present had for years been looking forward to 1914. But what would the end of the Gentile Times bring?
World War I was raging, and at that time it was believed that the war was leading into a time of global anarchy that would result in the end of the existing system of things. There were also other expectations concerning 1914. Alexander H. Macmillan, who had been baptized in September 1900, later recalled: “A few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October.” In fact, recalling the morning that Russell announced the end of the Gentile Times, 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.”
Disappointed expectations as to the return of the Lord Jesus had in the 19th century caused many followers of William Miller and various Adventist groups to lose faith. But what about the Bible Students associated with Russell? Had some been attracted by the thought of their own early salvation rather than love for God and a strong desire to do his will?
‘Brother Russell, Were You Not Disappointed?’
Brother Russell had been encouraging the Bible Students to keep on the watch and to be determined to continue in the Lord’s work even if matters did not culminate as soon as they might have expected.
October 1914 passed, and C. T. Russell and his associates were still on earth. Then October 1915 passed. Was Russell disappointed? In The Watch Tower of February 1, 1916, he wrote: “‘But, Brother Russell, what is your thought as to the time of our change? Were you not disappointed that it did not come when we hoped that it would?’ you will ask. No, we reply, we were not disappointed. . . . Brethren, those of us who are in the right attitude toward God are not disappointed at any of His arrangements. We did not wish our own will to be done; so when we found out that we were expecting the wrong thing in October, 1914, then we were glad that the Lord did not change His Plan to suit us. We did not wish Him to do so. We merely wish to be able to apprehend His plans and purposes.”
No, the Bible Students were not ‘taken home’ to heaven in October 1914. Nevertheless, the Gentile Times did end in that year. Clearly, the Bible Students had more to learn as to the significance of 1914. Meanwhile, what were they to do? Work! As The Watch Tower of September 1, 1916, put it: “We imagined that the Harvest work of gathering the Church [of anointed ones] would be accomplished before the end of the Gentile Times; but nothing in the Bible so said. . . . Are we regretful that the Harvest work continues? Nay, verily . . . Our present attitude, dear brethren, should be one of great gratitude toward God, increasing appreciation of the beautiful Truth which He has granted us the privilege of seeing and being identified with, and increasing zeal in helping to bring that Truth to the knowledge of others.”
But was there much more to be done in the harvest work? Brother Russell evidently thought so. Indicating this was a conversation he had with Brother Macmillan in the fall of 1916. Calling Macmillan to his study at Brooklyn Bethel, Russell told him: “The work is increasing rapidly, and it will continue to increase, for there is a world-wide work to be done in preaching the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ in all the world.” Russell spent three and a half hours outlining to Macmillan what he saw from the Bible to be the great work yet ahead.
The Bible Students had come through a difficult test. But with the help of The Watch Tower, they were strengthened to triumph over disappointment. The testing season, however, was far from over.
*** jv 134-5 10 Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth ***
End of the Gentile Times
The matter of Bible chronology had long been of great interest to Bible students. Commentators had set out a variety of views on Jesus’ prophecy about “the times of the Gentiles” and the prophet Daniel’s record of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding the tree stump that was banded for “seven times.”—Luke 21:24, KJ; Dan. 4:10-17.
As early as 1823, John A. Brown, whose work was published in London, England, calculated the “seven times” of Daniel chapter 4 to be 2,520 years in length. But he did not clearly discern the date with which the prophetic time period began or when it would end. He did, however, connect these “seven times” with the Gentile Times of Luke 21:24. In 1844, E. B. Elliott, a British clergyman, drew attention to 1914 as a possible date for the end of the “seven times” of Daniel, but he also set out an alternate view that pointed to the time of the French Revolution. Robert Seeley, of London, in 1849, handled the matter in a similar manner. At least by 1870, a publication edited by Joseph Seiss and associates and printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was setting out calculations that pointed to 1914 as a significant date, even though the reasoning it contained was based on chronology that C. T. Russell later rejected.
Then, in the August, September, and October 1875 issues of Herald of the Morning, N. H. Barbour helped to harmonize details that had been pointed out by others. Using chronology compiled by Christopher Bowen, a clergyman in England, and published by E. B. Elliott, Barbour identified the start of the Gentile Times with King Zedekiah’s removal from kingship as foretold at Ezekiel 21:25, 26, and he pointed to 1914 as marking the end of the Gentile Times.
Early in 1876, C. T. Russell received a copy of Herald of the Morning. He promptly wrote to Barbour and then spent time with him in Philadelphia during the summer, discussing, among other things, prophetic time periods. Shortly thereafter, in an article entitled “Gentile Times: When Do They End?”, Russell also reasoned on the matter from the Scriptures and stated that the evidence showed that “the seven times will end in A.D. 1914.” This article was printed in the October 1876 issue of the Bible Examiner. The book Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World, produced in 1877 by N. H. Barbour in cooperation with C. T. Russell, pointed to the same conclusion. Thereafter, early issues of the Watch Tower, such as the ones dated December 1879 and July 1880, directed attention to 1914 C.E. as being a highly significant year from the standpoint of Bible prophecy. In 1889 the entire fourth chapter of Volume II of Millennial Dawn (later called Studies in the Scriptures) was devoted to discussion of “The Times of the Gentiles.” But what would the end of the Gentile Times mean?
The Bible Students were not completely sure what would happen. They were convinced that it would not result in a burning up of the earth and a blotting out of human life. Rather, they knew it would mark a significant point in regard to divine rulership. 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. They concluded that, instead, the date had marked only a starting point as to Kingdom rule.
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. (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. 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—they earnestly hoped that their change might take place at the end of the Gentile Times.—1 Thess. 4:17.
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. With varying degrees of success, they endeavored to avoid being dogmatic about details not directly stated in the Scriptures.
*** jv 135-7 10 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.
*** jv 78 7 Advertise the King and the Kingdom! (1919-1941) ***
As the spiritual light of understanding grew brighter, the Bible Students began to perceive some thrilling Bible truths. (Prov. 4:18) The understanding of these precious truths gave a powerful impetus to their work of proclaiming God’s Kingdom. At the same time, they had to adjust their thinking—and for some this was a real test.
“Unrealized Hopes Are Not Unique to Our Day”
“We may confidently expect,” stated the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die, back in 1920, “that 1925 will mark the return [from the dead] of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old . . . to the condition of human perfection.” Not only was the resurrection of faithful men of old expected in 1925 but some hoped that anointed Christians might receive their heavenly reward in that year.
The year 1925 came and went. Some abandoned their hope. But the vast majority of the Bible Students remained faithful. “Our family,” explained Herald Toutjian, whose grandparents had become Bible Students about the turn of the century, “came to appreciate that unrealized hopes are not unique to our day. The apostles themselves had similar misplaced expectations. . . . Jehovah is worthy of loyal service and praise with or without the ultimate reward.”—Compare Acts 1:6, 7.
*** jv 104 8 Declaring the Good News Without Letup (1942-1975) ***
“Say, What Does This 1975 Mean?”
The Witnesses had long shared the belief that the Thousand Year Reign of Christ would follow after 6,000 years of human history. But when would 6,000 years of human existence end? The book Life Everlasting—In Freedom of the Sons of God, released at a series of district conventions held in 1966, pointed to 1975. Right at the convention, as the brothers examined the contents, the new book triggered much discussion about 1975.
At the convention held in Baltimore, Maryland, F. W. Franz gave the concluding talk. He began by saying: “Just before I got on the platform a young man came to me and said, ‘Say, what does this 1975 mean?’” Brother Franz then referred to the many questions that had arisen as to whether the material in the new book meant that by 1975 Armageddon would be finished, and Satan would be bound. He stated, in essence: ‘It could. But we are not saying. All things are possible with God. But we are not saying. And don’t any of you be specific in saying anything that is going to happen between now and 1975. But the big point of it all is this, dear friends: Time is short. Time is running out, no question about that.’
In the years following 1966, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses acted in harmony with the spirit of that counsel. However, other statements were published on this subject, and some were likely more definite than advisable. This was acknowledged in The Watchtower of March 15, 1980 (page 17). But Jehovah’s Witnesses were also cautioned to concentrate mainly on doing Jehovah’s will and not to be swept up by dates and expectations of an early salvation.
*** jv 104 8 Declaring the Good News Without Letup (1942-1975) (ftn) ***
For example, the following articles were published in The Watchtower: “Making Wise Use of the Remaining Time” (May 1, 1968); “Serve With Eternity in View” (June 15, 1974); “Why We Have Not Been Told ‘That Day and Hour’” and “How Are You Affected by Not Knowing the ‘Day and Hour’?” (May 1, 1975). Earlier, in 1963, the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” had stated: “It does no good to use Bible chronology for speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time.—Matt. 24:36.”
*** w80 3/15 17-18 Choosing the Best Way of Life ***
5 In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth. With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated.
6 In its issue of July 15, 1976, The Watchtower, commenting on the inadvisability of setting our sights on a certain date, stated: “If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.” In saying “anyone,” The Watchtower included all disappointed ones of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hence including persons having to do with the publication of the information that contributed to the buildup of hopes centered on that date.
Expectations about dates and Watchtower view
*** jv 631-41 28 Testing and Sifting From Within ***
Were Their Expectations Correct?
At certain times the Bible Students had hopes and expectations that have been ridiculed by critics. Yet, all those hopes and expectations were rooted in a keen desire to see the fulfillment of what these zealous Christians recognized to be the unfailing promises of God.
From their study of the inspired Scriptures, they knew that Jehovah had promised blessings for all nations of the earth by means of the seed of Abraham. (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:15-18) They saw in God’s Word the promise that the Son of man would rule as heavenly King over all the earth, that a little flock of faithful ones would be taken from the earth to share with him in his Kingdom, and that these would rule as kings for a thousand years. (Dan. 7:13, 14; Luke 12:32; Rev. 5:9, 10; 14:1-5; 20:6) They knew Jesus’ promise that he would return and take with him those for whom he had prepared a place in heaven. (John 14:1-3) They were acquainted with the promise that the Messiah would also select some of his faithful forefathers to be princes in all the earth. (Ps. 45:16) They recognized that the Scriptures foretold the end of the wicked old system of things and realized that this was associated with the war of the great day of God the Almighty at Armageddon. (Matt. 24:3; Rev. 16:14, 16) They were deeply impressed by the scriptures that show that the earth was created to be inhabited forever, that those who lived on it were to have true peace, and that all who would exercise faith in Jesus’ perfect human sacrifice could enjoy an eternity of life in Paradise.—Isa. 2:4; 45:18; Luke 23:42, 43; John 3:16.
It was only natural that they should wonder when and how these things would occur. Did the inspired Scriptures provide any clues?
Using Bible chronology that had first been laid out by Christopher Bowen of England, they thought that 6,000 years of human history had ended in 1873, that thereafter they were in the seventh thousand-year period of human history, and that they had surely approached the dawn of the foretold Millennium. The series of books known as Millennial Dawn (and later called Studies in the Scriptures), which were penned by C. T. Russell, drew attention to the implications of this according to what the Bible Students understood from the Scriptures.
Something else that was seen as a possible time indicator involved the arrangement that God instituted in ancient Israel for a Jubilee, a year of release, every 50th year. This came after a series of seven 7-year periods, each of which ended with a sabbath year. During the Jubilee year, Hebrew slaves were freed and hereditary land possessions that had been sold were restored. (Lev. 25:8-10)
Calculations based on this cycle of years led to the conclusion that perhaps a greater Jubilee for all the earth had begun in the autumn of 1874, that evidently the Lord had returned in that year and was invisibly present, and that “the times of restitution of all things” had arrived.—Acts 3:19-21, KJ.
Based on the premise that events of the first century might find parallels in related events later, they also concluded that if Jesus’ baptism and anointing in the autumn of 29 C.E. paralleled the beginning of an invisible presence in 1874, then his riding into Jerusalem as King in the spring of 33 C.E. would point to the spring of 1878 as the time when he would assume his power as heavenly King. They also thought they would be given their heavenly reward at that time. When that did not occur, they concluded that since Jesus’ anointed followers were to share with him in the Kingdom, the resurrection to spirit life of those already sleeping in death began then. It was also reasoned that the end of God’s special favor to natural Israel down to 36 C.E. might point to 1881 as the time when the special opportunity to become part of spiritual Israel would close.
In the lecture “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” delivered by J. F. Rutherford on March 21, 1920, at the Hippodrome in New York City, attention was directed to the year 1925. On what basis was it thought to be significant? In a booklet published in that same year, 1920, it was pointed out that if 70 full Jubilees were calculated from what was understood to be the date when Israel entered the Promised Land (instead of starting after the last typical Jubilee before the Babylonian exile and then counting to the beginning of the Jubilee year at the end of the 50th cycle), this could point to the year 1925. On the basis of what was said there, many hoped that perhaps the remaining ones of the little flock would receive their heavenly reward by 1925. This year also was associated with expectations for resurrection of faithful pre-Christian servants of God with a view to their serving on earth as princely representatives of the heavenly Kingdom. If that really occurred, it would mean that mankind had entered an era in which death would cease to be master, and millions then living could have the hope of never dying off the earth. What a happy prospect! Though mistaken, they eagerly shared it with others.
Later on, during the years from 1935 through 1944, a review of the overall framework of Bible chronology revealed that a poor translation of Acts 13:19, 20 in the King James Version, along with certain other factors, had thrown off the chronology by over a century. This later led to the idea—sometimes stated as a possibility, sometimes more firmly—that since the seventh millennium of human history would begin in 1975, events associated with the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign might start to take place then.
Did the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses on these matters prove to be correct? They certainly did not err in believing that God would without fail do what he had promised. But some of their time calculations and the expectations that they associated with these gave rise to serious disappointments.
Following 1925, meeting attendance dropped dramatically in some congregations in France and Switzerland. Again, in 1975, there was disappointment when expectations regarding the start of the Millennium failed to materialize. As a result, some withdrew from the organization. Others, because they sought to subvert the faith of associates, were disfellowshipped. No doubt, disappointment over the date was a factor, but in some instances the roots went deeper. Some individuals also argued against the need to participate in the house-to-house ministry. Certain ones did not simply choose to go their own way; they became aggressive in opposing the organization with which they had been associated, and they made use of the public press and television to air their views. Nevertheless, the number who defected was relatively small.
Although these tests resulted in a sifting and some blew away like chaff when wheat is winnowed, others remained firm. Why? Regarding his own experience and that of others in 1925, Jules Feller explained: “Those who had set their confidence in Jehovah remained steadfast and continued their preaching activity.” They recognized that a mistake had been made but that in no respect had God’s Word failed, and therefore there was no reason either to let their own hope grow dim or to slow down in the work of pointing people to God’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope.
Some expectations had not been fulfilled, but that did not mean that Bible chronology was of no value. The prophecy recorded by Daniel regarding the appearance of the Messiah 69 weeks of years after “the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem” was fulfilled right on time, in 29 C.E. (Dan. 9:24-27) The year 1914 was also marked by Bible prophecy.
1914—Expectations and Reality
In 1876, C. T. Russell wrote the first of many articles in which he pointed to the year 1914 as the end of the Gentile Times referred to by Jesus Christ. (Luke 21:24, KJ) In the second volume of Millennial Dawn, published in 1889, Brother Russell set out in a reasoned manner details that would enable readers to see the Scriptural basis for what was said and to check it for themselves. Over a period of nearly four decades leading up to 1914, the Bible Students distributed millions of copies of publications focusing attention on the end of the Gentile Times. A few other religious papers took note of the Bible chronology that pointed to the year 1914, but what group other than the Bible Students gave it ongoing international publicity and lived in a manner that showed that they believed that the Gentile Times would end in that year?
As 1914 neared, expectations heightened. What would it mean? In The Bible Students Monthly (Volume VI, No. 1, published early in 1914), Brother Russell wrote: “If we have the correct date and chronology, Gentile Times will end this year—1914. What of it? We do not surely know. Our expectation is that the active rule of Messiah will begin about the time of the ending of the lease of power to the Gentiles. Our expectation, true or false, is that there will be wonderful manifestations of Divine judgments against all unrighteousness, and that this will mean the breaking up of many institutions of the present time, if not all.” He emphasized that he did not expect the “end of the world” in 1914 and that the earth abides forever, but that the present order of things, of which Satan is ruler, is to pass away.
In its issue of October 15, 1913, The Watch Tower had stated: “According to the best chronological reckoning of which we are capable, it is approximately that time—whether it be October, 1914, or later. Without dogmatizing, we are looking for certain events: (1) The termination of the Gentile Times—Gentile supremacy in the world—and (2) For the inauguration of Messiah’s Kingdom in the world.”
How would this come about? It seemed reasonable to the Bible Students then that it would include the glorification of any still on earth who had been chosen by God to share in the heavenly Kingdom with Christ. But how did they feel when that did not occur in 1914? The Watch Tower of April 15, 1916, stated: “We believe that the dates have proven to be quite right. We believe that Gentile Times have ended.” However, it candidly added: “The Lord did not say that the Church would all be glorified by 1914. We merely inferred it and, evidently, erred.”
In this they were somewhat like Jesus’ apostles. The apostles knew and thought they believed the prophecies concerning God’s Kingdom. But at various times they had wrong expectations as to how and when these would be fulfilled. This led to disappointment on the part of some.—Luke 19:11; 24:19-24; Acts 1:6.
When October 1914 passed without the expected change to heavenly life, Brother Russell knew that there would be serious searchings of heart. In The Watch Tower of November 1, 1914, he wrote: “Let us remember that we are in a testing season. The Apostles had a similar one during the interim between our Lord’s death and Pentecost. After our Lord’s resurrection, He appeared to His disciples a few times, and then they did not see Him for many days. Then they became discouraged and said, ‘There is no use waiting’; ‘I go fishing,’ said one. Two others said, ‘We will go with thee.’ They were about to go into the fishing business and leave the work of fishing for men. This was a testing time for the disciples. So also there is one now. If there is any reason that would lead any to let go of the Lord and His Truth and to cease sacrificing for the Lord’s Cause, then it is not merely the love of God in the heart which has prompted interest in the Lord, but something else; probably a hoping that the time was short; the consecration was only for a certain time.”
That evidently was the case with some. Their thoughts and desires had been fixed primarily on the prospect of being changed to heavenly life. When this did not occur at the anticipated time, they closed their minds to the significance of the amazing things that did take place in 1914. They lost sight of all the precious truths that they had learned from God’s Word, and they began to ridicule the people who had helped them to learn these.
Humbly, the Bible Students examined the Scriptures again, to let God’s Word readjust their outlook. Their conviction that the Gentile Times had ended in 1914 did not change. Gradually they came to see more clearly how the Messianic Kingdom had begun—that it was established in heaven when Jehovah bestowed authority on Jesus Christ, his Son; also, that this did not have to wait until Jesus’ joint heirs were raised to heavenly life but that they would be glorified with him later. In addition, they came to see that the spreading of the influence of the Kingdom did not require that first the faithful prophets of old be resurrected, but that the King would use loyal Christians now living as his representatives to set before people of all nations the opportunity to live forever as earthly subjects of the Kingdom.
As this grand picture opened before their eyes, further testing and sifting resulted. But those who truly loved Jehovah and took delight in serving him were very grateful for the privileges of service that opened up to them.—Rev. 3:7, 8.
One of these was A. H. Macmillan. He later wrote: “Although our expectations about being taken to heaven were not fulfilled in 1914, that year did see the end of the Gentile Times . . . We were not particularly disturbed that not everything took place as we had expected, because we were so busy with the Photo-Drama work and with the problems created by the war.” He kept busy in Jehovah’s service and was thrilled to see the number of Kingdom proclaimers increase to well over a million during his lifetime.
Looking back over his experiences during 66 years with the organization, he said: “I have seen many severe trials come upon the organization and testings of the faith of those in it. With the help of God’s spirit it survived and continued to flourish.” Regarding adjustments of understanding along the way, he added: “The fundamental truths we learned from the Scriptures remained the same. So I learned that we should admit our mistakes and continue searching God’s Word for more enlightenment. No matter what adjustments we would have to make from time to time in our views, that would not change the gracious provision of the ransom and God’s promise of eternal life.”
During his lifetime, Brother Macmillan saw that, among the issues that resulted in tests of faith, willingness to witness and appreciation of theocratic organization were two that laid bare what was really in the hearts of individuals. How so?
Field Service and Organization Become Issues
Beginning with its first issue, and with increasing emphasis thereafter, Zion’s Watch Tower urged each and every true Christian to share the truth with others. Thereafter, readers of the Watch Tower were frequently encouraged to appreciate their privilege and responsibility to proclaim the good news to others. Many shared in limited ways, but relatively few were in the forefront of the work, calling from house to house so as to give everyone the opportunity to hear the Kingdom message.
However, beginning with the year 1919, participation in the field service came to the fore more strongly. Brother Rutherford forcefully emphasized it in a discourse at Cedar Point, Ohio, that year. In each congregation that requested the Society to organize it for service, arrangements were made for a service director, appointed by the Society, to care for the work. He was to take the lead himself and see to it that the congregation had the needed supplies.
In 1922, The Watch Tower published an article entitled “Service Essential.” It pointed to the dire need for people to hear the good news of the Kingdom, directed attention to Jesus’ prophetic command at Matthew 24:14, and stated to elders in the congregations: “Let no one think that because he is an elder of the class all his service should consist of preaching by word of mouth. If opportunities offer for him to go among the people and place in their hands the printed message, that is a great privilege and is preaching the gospel, often more effectively than any other way of preaching it.” The article then asked: “Can any one who is really consecrated to the Lord justify himself or herself in idleness at this time?”
Some held back. They raised all sorts of objections. They did not think it appropriate to “sell books,” though the work was not being done for profit and though it was through these same publications that they had learned the truth about God’s Kingdom. When house-to-house witnessing with the books on Sunday was encouraged, beginning in 1926, some argued against that, although Sunday was the day that many people customarily set aside for worship. The basic problem was that they felt it beneath their dignity to preach from house to house. Yet, the Bible clearly says that Jesus sent his disciples to the homes of people to preach, and the apostle Paul preached “publicly and from house to house.”—Acts 20:20; Matt. 10:5-14.
As emphasis on the field service increased, those whose hearts did not move them to imitate Jesus and his apostles as witnesses gradually withdrew. The Skive Congregation in Denmark, along with some others, was reduced to about half. Out of the hundred or so associated with the Dublin Congregation in Ireland, only four remained. There was a similar testing and sifting in the United States, Canada, Norway, and other lands. This resulted in a cleansing of the congregations.
Those who truly wanted to be imitators of God’s Son responded favorably to the encouragement from the Scriptures. However, their willingness did not necessarily make it easy for them to begin going from house to house. Some had a hard time starting. But arrangements for group witnessing and special service assemblies were an encouragement. Two sisters in northern Jutland, in Denmark, long remembered their first day of field service. They met with the group, heard the instructions, started for their territory, but then gave way to tears. Two of the brothers saw what was happening and invited the sisters to work with them. Soon the sun was shining again. After having a taste of field service, most were filled with joy and were enthusiastic about doing more.
Then, in 1932, The Watchtower contained a two-part article entitled “Jehovah’s Organization.” (Issues of August 15 and September 1) This showed that the elective office of elder in the congregations was unscriptural. Congregations were urged to use in responsible positions only men who were active in the field service, men living up to the responsibility implied by the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. These were to function as a service committee. One of their number, nominated by the congregation, was appointed by the Society to be service director. In Belfast, Ireland, this sifted out more of those whose desire was for personal prominence rather than for humble service.
By the early 1930’s, most of those in Germany who were trying to put the damper on field service had withdrawn from the congregations. Some others fearfully withdrew when in 1933 the work was banned in many of the states in Germany. But thousands endured these tests of faith and showed themselves willing to preach regardless of the danger involved.
Around the earth the proclamation of the Kingdom gained momentum. Field service became an important part of the life of all of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The congregation in Oslo, Norway, for example, rented buses on weekends to transport publishers to nearby cities. They met early in the morning, were in their territory by nine or ten o’clock, worked hard in the field service for seven or eight hours, and then joined the bus group for their homeward trip. Others traveled into rural areas by bicycle, with bookbags and cartons loaded with extra supplies. Jehovah’s Witnesses were happy, zealous, and united in the doing of God’s will.
In 1938, when attention was again given to the appointment of responsible men in the congregations, the elimination of all local elections of servants was generally welcomed. Congregations gladly passed resolutions showing appreciation for theocratic organization and requesting “the Society” (which they understood to mean the anointed remnant, or faithful and discreet slave) to organize the congregation for service and to appoint all the servants. Thereafter, the visible Governing Body proceeded to make the needed appointments and to organize the congregations for united and productive activity. Only a few groups held back and withdrew from the organization at this point.
Devoted Solely to Spreading the Kingdom Message
For the organization to continue to have Jehovah’s approval, it must be devoted exclusively to the work that his Word commands for our day. That work is the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 24:14) However, there have been a few instances in which individuals who worked hard in cooperation with the organization also endeavored to use it to promote programs that tended to divert their associates to other activities. When reproved, this was a test to them, especially when they felt that their motives had been noble.
This occurred in Finland during 1915, when some brothers founded a cooperative association called Ararat and used the columns of the Finnish edition of The Watch Tower to urge its readers to join this business association. The one who had initiated this activity in Finland responded humbly when Brother Russell pointed out that he and his associates were letting themselves be “led away from the important work of the Gospel.” However, pride hindered another brother, one who had been active in Jehovah’s service for over a decade in Norway, from accepting the same counsel.
During the 1930’s, in the United States, a somewhat similar problem arose. A number of congregations were publishing their own monthly service instruction sheets, which included reminders from the Society’s Bulletin as well as experiences and their local schedule of service arrangements. One of these, published in Baltimore, Maryland, gave enthusiastic support to the preaching activity but was also used to promote certain business ventures. Initially Brother Rutherford gave tacit approval to some of these. But when it was realized what could develop from involvement in such ventures, The Watchtower stated that the Society did not endorse them. This presented a severe personal test to Anton Koerber, for he had intended by these means to be of help to his brothers. In time, however, he again made full use of his abilities to further the preaching work being done by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A related problem arose in Australia starting in 1938 and escalated during the ban on the Society (January 1941 to June 1943). In order to care for what at the time seemed to be valid needs, the branch office of the Society got directly involved in a variety of commercial activities. Thus, a great mistake was made. They had sawmills, more than 20 “Kingdom farms,” an engineering company, a bakery, and other enterprises. Two commercial printeries provided a cover for continued production of the Society’s publications during the ban. But some of their business operations got them involved in violations of Christian neutrality, the work being done on the pretext of providing funds and supporting the pioneers during the ban. The consciences of some, however, were deeply disturbed. Although the majority stayed with the organization, general stagnation in the work of Kingdom proclamation set in. What was holding back Jehovah’s blessing?
When the ban on the work was lifted in June 1943, the brothers then at the branch office appreciated that these enterprises should be disposed of, in favor of focusing on the all-important preaching of the Kingdom. In the space of three years, this was accomplished, and the Bethel family was reduced to a normal size. But it was still necessary to clear the air and thus restore complete confidence in the organization.
Nathan H. Knorr, the president of the Society, and his secretary M. G. Henschel visited Australia specifically to deal with this situation in 1947. In reporting on the matter, The Watchtower of June 1, 1947, said of the commercial activity that had been carried on: “It was not the every-day secular work of brethren engaged in making a living that was involved, but it was the fact that the Society’s Branch office had obtained various kinds of industries and called in publishers from all parts of the country, particularly pioneers, to work in these industries rath.
Final Chapter of Proclaimser Book
*** jv 713-6 33 Continuing to Keep on the Watch ***
‘Fully Assured’ of Their Understanding
As a worldwide congregation, they have “the full assurance of their understanding.” (Col. 2:2) It is not that they feel that they understand every detail of Jehovah’s purposes. They keep searching the Scriptures with an open mind, and they keep learning. But what they learn does not change their basic viewpoint regarding the fundamental truths of God’s Word. They are ‘fully assured’ of these foundation truths; they have recognized and accepted them for many decades now. What they learn does, however, continually improve their understanding of how certain scriptures fit into the overall pattern of Bible truth and how they can more fully apply the counsel of God’s Word in their own lives.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have “full assurance” also concerning God’s promises. They have absolute confidence that none of his promises will fail even in the smallest detail and that all of them will be fulfilled in his appointed time. The fulfillment of Bible prophecy that they have both seen and experienced thus leaves them fully assured that the present world is in its “time of the end” and that God’s promise of a righteous new world will soon be realized.—Dan. 12:4, 9; Rev. 21:1-5.
What, then, should they be doing? “Keep looking, keep awake,” commanded Jesus, “for you do not know when the appointed time is. Therefore keep on the watch . . . in order that when [the Master] arrives suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:33, 35-37) Jehovah’s Witnesses are keenly aware of the need to keep on the watch.
The overeagerness that they have at times manifested regarding the fulfillment of certain prophecies does not alter the evidence piling up since World War I that we are in the conclusion of the system of things. Surely, it is far better to be zealous—even overzealous—to see God’s will accomplished than to be spiritually asleep to the fulfillment of his purposes!—Compare Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2, 6.
What does keeping on the watch involve?
Keeping on the Watch—How?
Watchful Christians do not just fold their arms and wait. Far from it! They must keep in fit condition spiritually so that when Jesus comes as Executioner, he will also prove to be their Deliverer. (Luke 21:28) “Pay attention to yourselves,” Jesus warned, “that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. . . . Keep awake.” (Luke 21:34-36) Thus, watching Christians must first ‘pay attention to themselves,’ being careful to live each day as a Christian should. They must stay wide awake to Christian responsibilities and avoid the unchristian conduct characteristic of a world “lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19; Rom. 13:11-14) When Christ comes, they must be ready.
Who have truly kept wide awake, in fit condition spiritually? The historical record presented in earlier chapters of this publication points to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Clearly, they take seriously the responsibilities involved in being Christians. In time of war, for example, they have been willing to risk imprisonment and death because of being wide awake to the obligation to be no part of the world and to show self-sacrificing love for one another. (John 13:34, 35; 17:14, 16) Persons who observe them at their Kingdom Halls, at their large conventions, or even on their secular jobs are impressed by their ‘fine conduct.’ (1 Pet. 2:12) In this world that has “come to be past all moral sense,” they have a reputation for leading honest, morally clean lives.—Eph. 4:19-24; 5:3-5.
Keeping on the watch, though, involves more than ‘paying attention to yourself.’ A watchman must announce to others what he sees. In this time of the end, watchful Christians who clearly see the sign of Christ’s presence must proclaim to others the “good news of the kingdom” and must warn them that soon Christ will come and execute judgment against this wicked system of things. (Matt. 24:14, 30, 44) In this way they help others to put themselves in line for “deliverance.”—Luke 21:28.
Who have proved to be on the watch by sounding the warning? Jehovah’s Witnesses are known the world over for their zeal in proclaiming God’s name and Kingdom. They do not reserve preaching for a select clergy class. They recognize that it is a responsibility of all believers. They view it as an essential part of their worship. (Rom. 10:9, 10; 1 Cor. 9:16) What have been the results?
They now constitute a growing congregation of millions of active members in over 220 lands throughout the earth. (Isa. 60:22; compare Acts 2:47; 6:7; 16:5.) Some of the most powerful governments in the history of mankind have banned their work, even rounding them up and putting them into prison. But Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued to proclaim God’s Kingdom! Their determination is like that of the apostles who, when ordered to stop preaching, declared: “As for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29.
“Keep in Expectation of It”
The situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses today is similar to that of first-century Judean Christians. Jesus had given them a sign whereby they would know when it was time to flee from Jerusalem so as to escape its destruction. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, . . . begin fleeing,” Jesus said. (Luke 21:20-23) A little more than 30 years later, in 66 C.E., Jerusalem was surrounded by Roman armies. When the Roman forces suddenly withdrew for no apparent reason, Judean Christians followed Jesus’ instructions and fled—not just from Jerusalem but from the whole land of Judea—to a city in Perea called Pella.
There, in safety, they waited. The year 67 C.E. came and went. Then 68 gave way to 69. Yet, Jerusalem remained free. Should they return? After all, Jesus had not said how long to wait. But if any did return, it was too bad, for in 70 C.E. the Roman armies came back in numbers that caused their impact to be like a flood that could not be stopped, and this time they did not withdraw. Instead, they demolished the city and killed more than a million people. How happy those Judean Christians in Pella must have been that they had kept waiting for Jehovah’s appointed time to execute judgment!
It is similar with those keeping on the watch today. They fully realize that the deeper we get into this time of the end, the more challenging it will be to keep in expectation of Jesus’ coming. But they have not lost faith in Jesus’ words: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:34) The expression “these things” refers to the various features of the composite “sign.” This sign has been in evidence since 1914 and will culminate at the “great tribulation.” (Matt. 24:21) The “generation” that was alive in 1914 is fast dwindling. The end cannot be far off.
Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely determined to keep on the watch, in full faith that God will carry out all of his promises at his due time! They take to heart Jehovah’s words to the prophet Habakkuk. Concerning Jehovah’s apparent toleration of wickedness in the kingdom of Judah during the latter part of the seventh century B.C.E., Jehovah told the prophet: “Write down the vision [concerning the end of the oppressive conditions], and set it out plainly upon tablets, in order that the one reading aloud from it may do so fluently. For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps panting on to the end, and it will not tell a lie. Even if it should [appear to] delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.” (Hab. 1:2, 3; 2:2, 3) Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses have confidence in Jehovah’s righteousness and justice, and this helps them to keep their balance and to wait for Jehovah’s “appointed time.”
F. W. Franz, who was baptized in 1913, well expressed the feelings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1991, as president of the Watch Tower Society, he stated:
“Our hope is a sure thing, and it will be fulfilled fully to every last one of the 144,000 members of the little flock to a degree beyond what we have even imagined. We of the remnant who were on hand in the year 1914, when we expected all of us to go to heaven, have not lost our sense of value of that hope. But we are as strong for it as we ever were, and we are appreciating it all the more the longer we have to wait for it. It is something worth waiting for, even if it required a million years. I evaluate our hope more highly than ever before, and I never want to lose my appreciation for it. The hope of the little flock also gives assurance that the expectation of the great crowd of other sheep will, without any possibility of failure, be fulfilled beyond our brightest imagination. That is why we are holding fast down to this very hour, and we are going to hold fast until God has actually proved that he is true to his ‘precious and very grand promises.’”—2 Pet. 1:4; Num. 23:19; Rom. 5:5.
The time is rapidly approaching when Christ’s presence in Kingdom power will be made clearly manifest to all humankind. Then, the watching ones will “receive the fulfillment of the promise.” (Heb. 10:36) Indeed, their expectations will be fulfilled beyond ‘what they have ever imagined.’ How happy and how thankful they will be that in the closing days of this wicked system of things, they were the ones who continued to keep on the watch, the ones who zealously proclaimed God’s Kingdom!
er than preaching the gospel.” This had led even to indirect involvement in the war effort. At conventions in each of the provincial capitals, Brother Knorr spoke frankly to the brothers about the situation. At each assembly a resolution was adopted in which the Australian brothers acknowledged their error and asked Jehovah’s mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Thus, vigilance has been required and tests have been confronted so that the organization would continue to be devoted solely to spreading the message of the Kingdom of God.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses look back over their modern-day history, they see evidence that Jehovah has truly been refining his people. (Mal. 3:1-3) Wrong attitudes, beliefs, and practices have gradually been cleared out, and any who have chosen to cling to these have gone with them. Those who remain are not people who are willing to compromise Bible truth in order to accommodate human philosophy. They are not followers of men but are devoted servants of Jehovah God. They gladly respond to the direction of the organization because they see unmistakable evidence that it belongs to Jehovah. They rejoice in the advancing light of truth. (Prov. 4:18) They individually count it a grand privilege to be active Witnesses of Jehovah, proclaimers of the Kingdom of God.