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The Use and Purpose of Unfulfilled Prophecy

by E. L. Jorgenson

Elmer L. Jorgenson (1886-1968)

100 Years Ago

(Transcribed from the 1918 April Edition of the Word and Work Magazine.)


Whether or not we shall preach the unfulfilled prophecies is not a matter for us to decide. God Himself decided that long ago. It is not even left for us to discuss whether we may do so or not, for we must do so or disobey God. At least this is true if the unfulfilled prophecies are a part of the Word; and no one I suppose, will have the hardihood to deny that they are. For Paul in the scriptures by the Spirit has said, “Preach the Word”; he has set us the good example of declaring “the whole counsel of God.” Jesus also has said that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” So, then the preaching of unfulfilled prophecy comes under the general direction, “Preach the word.” Of course, we have no authority to speculate in this realm any more than in any other department of The Word; but we do have the right to elucidate, illustrate, and enforce .in our own language (that that is to “preach,” not merely to quote) the sense of the written Word in this department precisely as we do in other fields of scripture.

Not only does the preaching of prophecy come under the general direction to preach the Word, but it comes under specific instructions also—-as if God had foreseen the need of calling particular attention to this duty. Thus we read, “We have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1 :1 9). And again, “Ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets”— we should not only know them but we should remember them (2 Pet. 3 :2). Other scriptures of this sort would be those, for instance, in which the book of Revelation, are urged upon our attention (1 :3; 2 2 :1 6) . It is a motto among us that we should do whatever God commands, if for no other reason, then just because he commands it. If then we could see no underlying reason or purpose in teaching this part of the Word, no good result to be obtained by so doing, it would behoove us still to do it faithfully— or give up the plea, “Do what God says because He says it”—yea, even if it were as arbitrary a requirement as baptism seems to be, and even if it were to put us out of harmony with some good people; because God does command it.

But the case is not so. There are reasons, revealed reasons; there are purposes and uses good and sufficient; and to these uses and purposes we shall now address ourselves:

  1. One purpose of unfulfilled prophecy is to establish, strengthen and confirm faith, whenever the thing predicted comes to pass. “I have told you before it came to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe.” John 14:29 (cp. John 13:19; 16:4). Whether the prediction was uttered in our own hearing, as in the case of the disciples, or whether it was uttered hundreds of years earlier and recorded for us, makes not a bit of difference in effect. The only requirements being that we shall know the prophecy was uttered before the event it predicted (that is that it is truly prophecy and not history), and that it shall be fulfilled in our lifetime. On the same principle those predictions which were both uttered and fulfilled before our time, such as the destruction of Babylon, of Nineveh, and the dispersion of the Jews, form a mighty argument for the inspiration of the scriptures and go a long way toward establishing faith. Those uttered before, but fulfilled in our time, are however the most potent of all in this class; for of them we are sure, that they are not history but truly prophecy; and these impress us most powerfully because they come to pass under our own observation. But let it not be overlooked that such predictions must be known and grasped beforehand in order to have their full effect. The Savior clearly contemplated that His disciples should understand beforehand in the passages cited under this head.
  2. Another use and purpose of unfulfilled prophecy, and a very considerable one too, is that by it we may warn and stir and move men to godly living on the strength of what it predicts. The third chapter of 2 Peter illustrates this fully. That chapter might be called, “The appeal to a godly life on the ground of un* fulfilled prophecy/’ Peter’s purpose is to remind believers of the words spoken by the prophets and the commandment of the Lord Jesus. The particular thing of which he. would remind them is the promise of the Lord’s coming and related events. He stops to meet the sceptic’s sneer, “Everything is going like it always did, why look for His coming?” answering it by reminding them that so it was also in Noah’s day; and then Suddenly came the end of the world —the end of that world, by water. The same word which brought water then, will bring fire in its time. Then he takes up the believers’ difficulty— “why is the Lord so long in coming?” It may seem long to us, it is not long with the Lord; with him a thousand years is as twenty-four hours to us. Then mark the appeal of verses 11, 14 and 17: “Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved,” “Wherefore seeing that ye look for these things,” “Ye, therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand,” “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living.” Every modem, appeal is likewise based on unfulfilled prophecy. You cannot get ten steps without it. Everybody preaches it. Whenever we appeal to heaven, to glory, and reward; whenever we threaten with hell and the wrath to come; yea whenever we say that Jesus is coming, or make any statement concerning things to come, we make use of unfulfilled prophecy. Every book in the Bible contains some of it, and most of them abound in it. Indeed very few chapters are without it; and everybody, everybody— even of those who preach against preaching it, preaches it. Why then, so much noise against using unfulfilled prophecy? No one can move any one to do anything without motive, and it is hardly too much to say that all motive power, at least of that kind that appeals to the alien, lies in the unfulfilled prophecies. I do not mean in the prophetic books alone, but in the predictions scattered throughout the entire Bible; whether they be promises of reward for well-doing or threats of punishment for evil-doing. We hear much talk nowadays about preaching the essentials and leaving other things alone— at least if they cause disturbance (of course it is a simple matter for men to see to it that they do cause disturbance whenever they choose to do so); but have the brethren quite overlooked the fact that whatever motive is required to lead a man to take the essential steps is also essential to his salvation. We are agreed that the essential steps are three say, or four? Very well then, let us hasten to agree also that whatever hope, warning or threat is necessary to make a man take those steps is also necessary to his salvation. No one has really preached “the essentials” until he has preached whatever it takes to move men to take the essential steps. This point is of great importance and it is one that is being very generally overlooked. Whenever the brethren begin really to ponder it, all talk about preaching the essentials and leaving unfulfilled prophecy alone will cease. Then we will be down to rock bottom in all our discussions; then the question will be stripped so we can handle it; then instead of a mere charge that Brother So-an-So is, contrary to scripture, preaching things in the realm of unfulfilled prophecy which, though they may be true, are disturbing the churches, we shall, have what may be really a very proper charge, namely, that Brother So-and-So is preaching things in the realm of unfulfilled prophecy, which are not true. And this can then be taken up for investigation in brotherly fashion.
  3. A third use and purpose of unfulfilled prophecy is to put a lamp into the believer’s hand sp that he may not stumble. ‘The first verse of the sixteenth chapter of John is exceedingly significant. “These things have I spoken unto you that ye should not be caused to stumble.” Glance over “these things” which the Savior had spoken to the eleven. They are predictions for the most part— predictions of coming persecution, of the coming Comforter, of the witness the eleven were to bear. Read on into chapter sixteen; see how He speaks to them of things whose “hour” had not yet come (1 6 :4) , unfulfilled prophecy! That is unfulfilled at that time. And spoken for the express purpose that the disciples should not stumble. A knowledge of prophecy then keeps disciples from stumbling*! Without it they are in danger of stumbling! That is a rather “practical” effect, is it not? Let us connect with this passage another one: “We have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). If ever a pilgrim on a strange road of a starless night needed a lantern the Christian needs a lamp for the trip he has never made before; a lamp that shines ahead too, ahead where the road lies. The “word of prophecy” is that lamp. Not a lamp like the 12th of Romans telling him what to do; but a search-light that shines ahead pointing out in advance such things in the future over which he would be likely to stumble without that light. Hosts of people are stumbling now for the lack of this lamp. As a case in point, read this letter which appeared in The Sunday School Times some time ago:

     “I want to ask you about this war. It has completely upset my faith and confidence in God’s lovingkindness and tender mercy. I have given up my Sunday school class after a thirty-five year’s tenure. I felt I had no message for the men. . . . I was seventy-four years old on the 19th of this month. I am not sorry that I am near the end of life. The woes of this world are too terrible to bear. I never had anything to affect me as this war has done.”

Here is a man who stumbled for no other reason so far as his letter reveals than that he was without the light of unfulfilled prophecy. Who shall say that if this man had known the revealed truth concerning the last days beforehand so far from stumbling on account of the war he would actually have waxed stronger in faith as he saw the very things coming to pass which God had centuries ago predicted. But he had evidently been fed by the “Peace, Peace, where there is no peace” prophets, until he believed the Gospel would gradually sweep in every man and nation, before the Savior’s coming, that this was God’s purpose in this age, and that the church militant was about to become also the church triumphant in the earth. And now with the collapse of European civilization goes the collapse of this old man’s faith. “He (the Spirit) shall declare unto you the things that are to come.” John 16:11. “Behold, I have told you beforehand.” Matt. 2 4 :25.


Bro. Jorgenson contributed regularly to the early issues of the printed Word and Work and served as Co-Editor from 1956 to 1962. 

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