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One Hundred Years Ago—1914

One Hundred Years Ago—1914

“WE BELIEVE that the Year 1914 gives evidence of greater possibilities of service for the Truth than has any previous year of the Harvest,” stated The Watch Tower of January 1, 1914. The year that the Bible Students had been anticipating for decades had finally arrived, and they were hard at work in the ministry. As a result of the efforts of the Bible Students that year, millions of people heard about the Bible’s promises. The world around them, though, expended its efforts in a very different direction.

The World Becomes More Violent

Early in 1914, one of the most violent events in the history of labor strikes in the United States took the lives of men, women, and children. Miners on strike and their families had been evicted from their company-owned housing and were forced to live in tent colonies. On April 20, in the tent colony near Ludlow, Colorado, shooting erupted. The miners’ tent colony was set ablaze. Throughout the region incensed miners retaliated by killing many company guards. The army was called in to restore order.

In Europe, things were much worse. On June 28, when Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb, fired the shot that killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, he provided the spark that ignited World War I. By year’s end, World War I, then known as the Great War, had enveloped Europe.

Conventions Focus on the Preaching Work

Amid the world’s increasing turmoil, the Bible Students encouraged one another to be diligent in the preaching work. The first convention of God’s people ever held in South Africa began on April 10. The peak attendance at that convention was 34. “We were a very ‘little flock,’ indeed,” wrote William W. Johnston. “We immersed almost half of [those who attended] the . . . Convention. Eight sisters and eight brothers symbolized their consecration in the Lord’s appointed manner.” On the last day of the convention, those assembled talked about how best to advance the preaching work in South Africa. Today, more than 90,000 faithful publishers in South Africa testify to the success of that ‘little flock.’

On June 28, 1914, the very day that Archduke Ferdinand was shot, the Bible Students assembled in Clinton, Iowa, U.S.A. At that convention, on June 30, A. H. MacMillan said: “If we wish to receive our reward we want to keep actively engaged in doing the will of God, out in the service whenever possible, carrying the harvest message to the world.”

The “Photo-Drama” Attracts Millions

The “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a production consisting of recorded Bible talks and music that were synchronized with colored glass slides and motion pictures, premiered in New York City on January 11, 1914. Five thousand attended that first showing, and many were turned away because of a lack of space.

Preparation of the “Photo-Drama of Creation” had taken two years, yet it “was barely ready to give its first exhibition in January,” observed The Watch Tower. During the first half of 1914, the brothers made several improvements to the “Photo-Drama.” For example, they added an introductory film with synchronized narration by Charles Taze Russell, making the presentation’s sponsorship clear.

At its peak, the “Photo-Drama” played simultaneously in as many as 80 cities. By July of 1914, it had reached Great Britain, being shown to packed houses in Glasgow and London. September saw the production reach Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. By October, it had reached Australia and New Zealand. In all, over nine million people saw the “Photo-Drama” in its first year.

Each copy of the “Photo-Drama” consisted of hundreds of glass slides, many reels of motion-picture film, and dozens of records. The copies were expensive to produce, and each showing required an experienced crew of brothers and sisters. Thus, the complete “Photo-Drama” was primarily shown in large cities. In order to reach those in rural areas, the Bible Students also produced three abbreviated versions of the “Photo-Drama.” One version, known as the “Eureka Drama Y,” contained tinted glass slides that were accompanied by recorded Bible talks and music. The other versions, known as the “Eureka Drama X” and the much shorter “Eureka Family Drama,” were audio only, with no slides or motion pictures. In the United States, more than 70,000 people had seen a version of the “Eureka Drama” by the end of 1914, less than four months after it was released.

Colporteurs and Volunteers Share in the Preaching Work

While the “Photo-Drama” work was new and exciting, the Bible Students recognized that other forms of the preaching work were their first priority. A letter from Charles Taze Russell to all colporteurs, now called pioneers, stated: “We know of no branch of the service yielding larger fruitage in this Harvest time. For this reason we are discouraging Colporteurs from entering the Photo-Drama work . . . Other brothers and sisters, equally loyal to the Lord . . . can serve in the Drama work.”

In January of 1914, the number of colporteurs was 850. Over the course of the year, those zealous evangelizers distributed more than 700,000 copies of Studies in the Scriptures. The Watch Tower expressed a “warm interest” in the colporteurs and encouraged its readers to “speak to them words of encouragement; for their way is not always strewn with thornless flowers.”

Other Bible Students distributed tracts in dozens of languages. During 1914, they placed over 47 million copies of The Bible Students Monthly and other tracts!

The Bible Students’ work did not go unnoticed. Their preaching was public, and their meetings were free. One of Christendom’s ministers lamented: “By and by people will think it is a crime to take up a collection, and then where shall we be? Pastor Russell is bringing us all into disrepute.”

The End of the Gentile Times

The Bible Students believed that “the times of the Gentiles,” spoken of in Luke 21:24 (King James Version), would end about October 1, 1914. As October drew near, anticipation increased. Some Bible Students even carried a countdown card so that they could mark off each passing day. Many felt that they would be called beyond the veil, or to heaven, on that date.

On the morning of October 2, 1914, Brother Russell entered the Bethel dining room and announced to the Bethel family: “The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day.” Some of those present would have recognized those words, which were based on song 171 in their songbook Hymns of the Millennial Dawn. Since 1879, the Bible Students had been singing “The Gentile times are closing,” but those words were no longer true, since the Gentile Times, or “the appointed times of the nations,” had indeed ended. (Luke 21:24) In time, our songbooks reflected this important change.

The “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death” countdown card was used by some in their resolve to remain faithful to the end

By year’s end, the Messianic Kingdom had been firmly established in the heavens, and some Bible Students thought that their work was done. Little did they know that they were about to enter a period of testing and sifting. The yeartext for 1915 was “Are ye able to drink of My cup?” based on Matthew 20:22 in the King James Version. The “cup” Jesus was referring to included the trials that he would face up until his death. The Bible Students were about to face trials, both from within and from outside their ranks. Their response to those trials would prove their loyalty to Jehovah.