(The following is taken from "The Midnight Cry" - 50 years of Prophetic Witness - published by PWMI in 1967)
In the parable of the ten virgins, our Lord declared that at midnight a cry came, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him” (Matt. 25: 6). Prior to that awakening shout, all the bridesmaids had slumbered and slept, oblivious to their responsibilities on that nuptial night. For centuries it seemed that the church, like the ten virgins, was comparatively without thought of her heavenly Bridegroom or hope of His Second Advent. Indeed, it was not until the nineteenth century that there was much attention given to this subject. In the last 150 years, however, there has been a deepening interest in eschatology and an increasing belief in the imminence of our Lord’s return. This revival of interest and expectancy (never, of course, completely absent), moreover, received a very great impetus fifty years ago.
Early in 1915 proposals were submitted to the British Government that Palestine should be converted into a dominion for occupation by the scattered nation of Jews, but although the recommendation was sympathetically received, no action was taken. Consequently, in the following year, the Zionist organisation put forward a “programme for a new administration of Palestine and for a Jewish resettlement of Palestine in accordance with the aspirations of the Zionist Movement”. This too was shelved. But the matter was brought to a head by other developments.
A serious crisis in the conduct of World War I arose at that time because of a grave shortage among the Allied powers of acetone, which was then a vital material in the manufacture of explosives. Research into methods of production and into possible alternative substances were completely unfruitful, and Mr. (later Earl) David Lloyd George, then Minister of Munitions and later Prime Minister, sought the help, inter alia of Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a Russian Jew, who was an eminent chemist and a lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University. Dr. Weizmann willingly responded to the appeal and, as a result of his laboratory experiments and painstaking efforts, the problem was solved. He produced a formula for the production of acetone and the high explosive tri-nitro toluene (T.N.T.), which played an important part in the prosecution of the war. Mr. Lloyd George paid unstinted praise to this brilliant scientific genius and informed Dr. Weizmann that he intended to recommend the bestowal of an honour upon him for his great services to the State. To his utter surprise, Dr. Weizmann declined the offer of an honour and said that he desired nothing for himself. Pressed further, he voiced his heart’s desire to see the Jewish people once again in occupation of Palestine (which was then, of course, held by the Turks). America and other Allied powers were consulted, as well as all shades of Jewish opinion, and the Government eventually acceded to Weizmann’s request that Britain should lend her support to the Zionist aim of creating a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. On the 2nd November 1917, in the darkest hour of the war, Mr. (later Lord) A. J. Balfour, then Foreign Secretary, accordingly addressed the following letter to Lord Rothschild:
“I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet:
His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
This declaration was, in many respects, the most important event in the history of the Jewish people since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus in 70 A.D. It not only envisaged the return of Israel to her ancient land, but also pledged the support of one of the Great Powers (and virtually of other nations as well) to the achievement of this. It electrified the Christian public when it was published. Dr. F. B. Meyer and other well-known religious leaders were so impressed with its significance and with the clear indication of God’s intervention to bring about the fulfilment of His purposes, as described in the Bible, that, after prayerful consideration, they decided that a call must be sounded to all Christians in the country. They, therefore, issued a manifesto to the public press on the 8th November, announcing that all-day meetings would be held on the 13th December 1917, at the Queens Hall, London, primarily with the object of emphasising that “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21: 24) were patently drawing to a close and that consequently the return of the Lord Jesus Christ for His church might be expected imminently. The manifesto was headed, “The significance of the Hour” and included a statement on the following lines which, having been slightly amended, is still the basis of belief:
“1. That the signs of the times point towards the close of the times of the Gentiles.
2. That the return of our Lord may be expected at any moment when He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection.
3. That the completed church will be translated to meet the Lord in the air, and to be forever with the Lord.
4. That Israel will be restored to their own land in unbelief, and be afterwards converted by the manifestation of Christ as their Messiah.
5. That all human schemes of world-reconstruction must be subsidiary to the Lord when all nations will be subject to His rule.
6. That under the reign of Christ there will be a further effusion of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.
7. That the truths embodied in this statement are of the utmost practical value in determining Christian character and action with reference to the pressing problems of the hour.”
A footnote added that this was a general statement, which did not profess to decide on particular details of prophetic interpretation, and Dr. G. Campbell Morgan pertinently remarked that the statement “was characterised by marked indefiniteness as to detail, and by clarity as to its statement of broad principles. The manifesto was not hurriedly drawn up. It was the outcome of prayerful thought and of much happy consultation.” Dr. F. B. Meyer’s account of this is included in the next chapter.
For four centuries Palestine had suffered under the iron heel of the Turk. In 1517 A.D. Selim I of Turkey drove the Egyptian Mamelukes out of Palestine and took possession of it. During the subsequent 46 years’ reign of his son, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire reached the zenith of its glory and prosperity, and Palestine was one of the countries to benefit. Conditions generally were improved, abuses and malpractices corrected, the laws systematised, and even Jerusalem’s walls rebuilt. But not many years after his death, there commenced a long period of misgovernment and merciless taxation by Turkish pashas or provincial governors, assisted by beys or native councillors. The land was ruled by aliens with no interest in its welfare or that of its inhabitants, except as a means of providing revenues.
When Turkey joined the Central European Powers in the first world war, the British defence of the Suez Canal zone inevitably led to the opening of a front in Palestine. Progress was slow until the appointment of General Sir (later Lord) Edmund Allenby in July 1917, when an offensive campaign really commenced. The Turkish confidence in their ability to withstand all attacks began to be undermined as the British troops drew nearer to the Holy City. Early in December 1917 (possibly because of the Balfour Declaration), Djemel Pasha, the Turkish general, issued a proclamation, ordering all Jews to leave Jerusalem. The city was placarded with the boast that not one British soldier would be allowed to climb the Judean hills, The Mount of Olives was trenched and fortified with all the then latest engines of destruction, and it seemed evident that the fight would be long and bitter. Allenby’s plans to take the city were carefully laid, but when his forces came within sight of Jerusalem on December 8th, the Turks began to flee in disorder, and by early morning on Sunday, December 9th, they had all passed through the Jaffa Gate, and the govenor had left a letter of surrender for the mayor to transmit to the British. Two days later, on December 11th, General Allenby made an official entry by the Jaffa Gate into the city on foot, followed by members of his staff and representatives of the Allied governments, and peace was proclaimed from the steps of the Tower of David. By the Arabs, the capture of the city was regarded as a Divine intervention, because of their mistaken impression that Allenby’s name was a combination of Allah (God) and Neby (prophet) and that he was, therefore, a prophet of God.
The deliverance of Jerusalem sent a thrill through the whole of Christendom. G. F. Owen says, “Christianity the world over put on her garments of praise. Songs were sung, poetry was recited, prayers offered and sermons preached. No Allied victory touched the heart of the religious world, awakened sentiment and inspired confidence more thoroughly than the taking of Jerusalem.” Many claimed that it was a clear indication that God was on the side of the Allies! Allenby’s entry into the city without a shot being fired was totally unexpected. The event occurred only two days before the Queen’s Hall meetings convened by Dr. F. B. Meyer and his colleagues, and the atmosphere at those meetings was naturally electric: the voice of God had been heard so clearly that it was impossible to ignore it. The deliverance of Jerusalem obviously indicated the possibility of the land being re-opened to the Jews, and it awoke in the hearts of many students of prophecy a new hope of the Lord’s near return. The following March the Jewish flag, which had not been unfurled for 19 centuries, was hoisted on the Tower of David and the shofar, or ram’s horn, was blown by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. All over the world Christians were stirred by the realisation that the prophetic word — the fulfilment of which had seemed unlikely — was still the inspired declaration of God and that its predictions were coming to fulfilment.