Approach to Eighteen Eighty-One
Worldwide people expected key events, prophetic fulfillments for 1881. An Australian newspaper reported that peasants in Russia were convinced that the world would end November 11, 1881. The craze wasn’t confined to Russian peasants, but found believers elsewhere. An Australian columnist who wrote as “Wandering Minstrel” poked fun at the prediction, writing that he heard “a great deal of the millennium just now, and prophets are predicting the end of the world.” The press always found a place for the odd, and “an old gentleman” from Lincolnshire, England, drew press attention. Convinced that end would come in 1881, he had a balloon made that would carry him aloft and out of harm’s way, furnishing it with three years of supplies, or so the press said. He planned on taking tinned provisions, brandy, soda-water, claret and other creature comforts.” Versions of this story were widely printed in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Russell and his fellow believers’ views of the approaching year are almost always misstated. Brown, Bell, and Carson’s Marketing Apocalypse says: “Jehovah’s Witnesses ... have rescheduled the end of the world on nine separate occasions,” and cites the 1881 date. None of the dates they cite were the focus of end of the world predictions. That they claimed such indicates a profound misunderstanding of Watch Tower theology. Neither Watch Tower adherent believers nor descendent groups believe the world will end. They expected other things for 1881.
The development of Watch Tower time-related belief is an outgrowth of Present Truth doctrine. The phrase is taken from 2 Peter 1:12 according to the Authorized Version: “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” Greek scholars suggest that the phrase “present truth” means an indwelling of truth, a personal commitment to and understanding of revealed truth. And the New World Translation, produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses, adopts that understanding, reading: “For this reason I intend always to remind you of these things, although you know them and are well-established in the truth that is present in you.” Peter’s comments addressed the need for reminders to reinforce already understood doctrine, the essential doctrines of Salvation.
However, in Russell’s lifetime and for years before, religious writers, even fairly-well educated authors, saw it differently. The Christian Intelligencer of 1829 extracted an article from another religious magazine, publishing it with approval. Instead of defining Present Truth as cherished, previously-learned ‘truth,’ it suggested that it was newly understood doctrine arrived at through crisis:
Let it also be observed, that particular truths are not at all times and in all places of the same importance. Whether men will attend to it or not, there is such a thing as the present truth. A gospel truth may derive a kind of adventitious importance from the very circumstance of its being assailed, despised, or over looked; just as a particular fact in the testimony of a witness may derive a great importance from its being opposed or denied by other witnesses. The present truth, then, (that is, those parts of the truth which claim the principal attention of Gods people,) is not always and in all places the same; but varies with the state of the Church. Nor is it always to be determined by its own native magnitude in the scale; but by its being overlooked, neglected, or opposed. Accordingly, it is promised that when Zion’s glory shall shine in the latter days, particular regard shall be paid by her sons to matters which have formerly been despised or overlooked.
As early as 1674, commentators suggested that ‘present truth’ was connected to predictive prophecy. William Bates published his Harmony of the Divine Attributes that year, connecting the concept of ‘present truth’ with the prophetic figures found in the Old Testament. Bates suggested that “no created understanding could frame so various representations of Christ, all exactly agreeing with him at such a distance.” He meant that Old Testament figures foreshadowed Christ exactly, giving irrefutable evidence to Gospel Truth. “We have,” he wrote, “an irrefragable argument of the truth and divinity of the gospel: for it is evident .by comparing the ancient figures with the present truth.” Bates did not extend this view to as yet unfulfilled prophecies.
Bates’ conservative approach did not stop others from connecting the ‘present truth’ concept with unfulfilled prophecy. At the front door of the 19th Century we find Christian writers referring it to future events. William Moseley Holland, a fellow worker with Henry Grew in the Peace Society movement, wrote:
There may be those among the present audience, to whom these predictions do not come home with the force of present truth. Others may, also, so far postpone the period of their fulfillment, as to feel themselves exonerated from instant exertion. To these, I would remark, that if universal peace be clearly for the interest and happiness of our race, the individual duty of every member of the community, plainly requires his assistance in its diffusion, however remote may be the period when his labors bid fair to become effectual.
Holland spoke (this was first a speech) of the Bible’s predictions of future peace and paradise, especially those found in Isaiah. Understanding future fulfillments was part of Present Truth. Holland believed that Christians should assist God in such fulfillments. His theology took maters beyond mere obedience to political action, as if God lacked both the will and power to fulfill his prophecies.
 News and Notes, The Goulburn, New South Wales, Southern Argus, October 1, 1881.
 Round About Notes, The Cootamundra, New South Wales, Herald, October 19, 1881.
 See for example: The Toowomba, Queensland, Western Star and Roma Advertiser, September 21, 1881, and Refuge in a Balloon, The Hawaiian Gazette, September 28, 1881.
 Stephen Brown, Jim Bell, David Carson (editors): Marketing Apocalypse¸ Rutledge, New York, 1998 edition, page 1.
 A. T. Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament: “‘In the present truth’ (the truth present in you), Parousei ... to be inside one.” See his comments on 2 Pet. 1:12.
 The article, entitled False Maxims, was extracted from The Religious Monitor and published in the January 1829 issue of The Christian Intelligencer. There is another similarly named periodical published in New York. This magazine was published in Ohio for the Dutch Reformed Church.
 W. Bates: The Harmony of the Divine Attributes, London edition of 1815, page 365.
 W. M. Holland: An Address Before the Hartford County Peace Society, Hartford, Connecticut, 1831, page 8.