Signs of the Times title page, 1903.

Photo courtesy of Adventist Heritage Centre, Australia.

Signs of the Times, South Pacific Division

By Milton Hook

×

Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

The Signs of the Times magazine in the South Pacific region began as part of the masthead of The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, first printed in Melbourne, VIC, as a message magazine in 1886. It was similar in format and purpose to the denomination’s American periodical, The Signs of the Times. These magazines were designed for both the church membership and the general population, especially those inclined to read religious material. The magazine has been continuously published in Australia since 1886 and is at present published by the Signs Publishing Company of the Adventist Media Network in the South Pacific Division.

Postal Requirements

In the closing days of 1902 the deputy postmaster general wrote to the Echo Publishing Company asking why The Bible Echo should continue to be registered as a newspaper with reduced postage rates. The publishers were deeply concerned, visiting the printers of other denominational papers to compare content and gaining an audience with the deputy postmaster general himself. They believed they were within the law because the Postal Act stated that “a substantial part” of the news content could be of a “religious, technical or practical” nature. The government official verbally interpreted the words “substantial part” as meaning 50 percent. His main complaint hinged on his assessment that The Bible Echo columns contained “literary articles” or didactic materials, not news items.1

The Bible Echo was being published at a loss. To add top postage rates would increase the debt. The publishers interpreted their dilemma as a sign of the end of time and called on church members to donate sacrificially to the company in the Sabbath School offerings during the first quarter of 1903. “The day of God hasteth greatly. Only a moment of time, as it were, yet remains,” they implored.2

Their practical response was immediate. The last of The Bible Echo was issued on January 19, 1903. The next issue, January 26, was titled Australasian Signs of the Times. The volume and issue numbers, and the cumulative paging, continued on as if the two periodicals were one and the same. To align themselves with the postal requirements, the columns for temperance and the youth were replaced with increased news items.3 To justify their rationale for continuing with publication, the news items were selected to illustrate what they interpreted as fulfillments of biblical prophecy. The masthead carried the assurance that the periodical was, indeed, registered as a newspaper.4

Early Efforts

Eugene Farnsworth was apparently the one who negotiated with the post office officials. He was the designated editor, named in the magazine itself,5 although his wife, Vesta, is given the role by the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook.6 The magazine was an illustrated 12-page weekly containing a few advertisements. The annual subscription was four shillings and sixpence. Single copies sold for a penny each. A column for children was continued.7 Temperance principles were often injected as news items8 in addition to didactic articles on the topic.9 It was always a delicate juggle to balance biblical interpretations with worldwide news reports, the good news of the Christian message balanced with the bad news of earthquakes, wars, crime, and calamities.10

Some Changes

In April 1904 Albert Anderson began as editor,11 a role he held for more than a decade. At the beginning of 1905 the title was simplified to Signs of the Times12 and the following year, with the transfer of the publishing house from Melbourne to Warburton, VIC, the printing establishment became known as the Signs of the Times Publishing Association, Limited.13

Elder Charles Snow replaced Anderson in January 191614 and served as the editor until the end of 1933. He had the benefit of associate editors, the first being Alexander King (January 1923 through December 1924),15 followed by “Arch” Fraser (January 1925 through December 1933).16

Farnsworth, Anderson, and Snow held firm convictions about contemporary world conditions being fulfillments of biblical prophecy. They used the secular newspapers to advantage. They identified the chief protagonists as the Papacy,17 Turkey,18 Russia,19 and China.20 Protestantism in general was portrayed as a regressive movement.21 It was asserted that on the basis of Scripture, the Jews would never return to Palestine.22 This type of literature took certain risks, being prognostic by nature, for subsequent history could reveal the writers to be wrong or alarmist.

The earliest circulation totals, published in 1906, were modest numbers. By September 1904 they were reported to be 8,113. They rose to 9,650 in 1905 and dropped to 8,823 (1906),23 8,572 (1907), and 7,829 (1908).24 The downward trend was arrested with a total of 8,429 in 1911. During World War I, as dire predictions prevailed, the totals steadily increased to 13,712 in 1917.25 By 1927 the total had risen to approximately 20,000, but was halved in the Great Depression years. The slump only made church officials more determined to promote the periodical.26

Recovery

In the wake of the Great Depression both King and Fraser served as acting editors during 1934 and 1935, until finally King was fully installed with an associate in the person of Marian Hay.27 This steady continuity lasted for nine years, including the difficult World War II years. The columns of the magazine repeatedly carried articles about the arms buildup in Europe,28 but there was little portent of war spreading to the Pacific. Articles still targeted the Papacy,29 and they made a stand against speaking in tongues,30 spiritualism,31 church ecumenism,32 and Darwinian evolution. Sometimes, when strident claims were made, authors were protected with the use of initials only.33 It remained registered as a newspaper without any questions raised by post office officials, even though the content had gravitated to a didactic style, with very few news items.

When paper supplies were scarce during World War II, the production of the periodical was never disadvantaged. A large shipment of paper had arrived from Germany only weeks after the outbreak of war. Other good-quality supplies came from Canada and the newly opened mill at Burnie, Tasmania.34 Circulation totals fluctuated with no apparent reason, but the trend was upward. Reported numbers were 11,249 (1931), 9,859 (1932), 12,841 (1933), 12,798 (1934), 10,686 (1935),35 and 26,200 (1941).36 As world conditions deteriorated, more readers subscribed to the magazine.

Post- World War II

In January 1945 Andrew Stewart succeeded King as editor37 and held the position until mid-1947. Pavitt Brown, who had been an assistant editor, was elected to succeed Stewart,38 followed by Ross Piper in 195639 and Robert Parr in 1967.40 Hay continued as associate or assistant until she retired in 1968, having worked with five different editors for 24 years.41

Following the war the Jews had been allowed to form their own nation in Palestine, something that earlier issues of the periodical had declared would never happen. Some explanation had to be offered with a reinterpretation from Scripture. It was proposed that contemporary Zionism was a human construct and would not last because God’s plan for the Jews was that they might be a spiritual Israel, accepting Christ individually.42 Furthermore, after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the era was characterized by a morbid fear of annihilation if atomic warfare was to erupt.43 And the possibility of food being contaminated by nuclear fallout was highlighted.44

The magazine thrived amid uncertain world conditions. By September 1946 the circulation soared to 40,572,45 but dropped to approximately 28,000 in 1955.46 In 1959 the publication was reduced to a monthly, and attractive colored covers were added to enhance its appeal.47 However, no matter what Piper provided, the circulation dived to approximately 21,000 by 1966.48 Parr’s buoyant style and less-strident tone lifted the circulation to approximately 70,000 by 1977.49 It briefly plateaued during these halcyon days, but it would never be as high again.

Beyond 1980

Early in 1981 Geoffrey Garne transferred from South Africa under appointment to replace Parr.50 His style found little continuity with his predecessor, and subscriptions fell sharply to less than 40,000.51 James Coffin was enlisted from America to be editor in 1987,52 but it was difficult to boost the readership. The slide continued to a disappointing 33,000 subscribers in 1991.53

Publishing officials turned to a bevy of gifted Australian writers and editors to rescue the periodical. Bruce Manners was chosen as editor, with Alan Holman as an associate, and Lee Dunstan, Karen Miller, and others assisting. A radical change with the format of the magazine took place. Issues were printed as a digest of 64 pages, much like The Reader’s Digest, well illustrated and offering articles of human and topical interest.54 It was enough to lift circulation totals at times to 50,000 during the 1990s.55

Current Situation

The twenty-first century carries new challenges with an array of media platforms competing for customers. To meet these new demands, Signs of the Times now has its own website carrying its current issue. It can be accessed at signsofthetimes.org.au. Nathan Brown (2005–2009)56 and Lee Dunstan with Melody Tan as an associate have since served as editors, continuing a quality production.57 Since mid-2018 Kent Kingston has edited the periodical. Approximately 75 percent of the subscriptions are funded by sponsors, enabling most of the copies to be sent free of charge to medical and dental waiting rooms and readers nominated by church members.58 It is no longer characterized as a bearer of bad news and a vehicle to censure other churches. Instead, the columns focus on what is commendable in other faiths59 and carry articles about health,60 family relationships,61 humanitarian projects,62 and people of courage.63 Short studies are inserted to arouse interest in the Scriptures64 and the occasional reference to dire world conditions is tempered with the assurance that God is in control.65 However, the latest circulation total, 19,485 and falling,66 indicates that fresh strategies are needed in order to maintain publication.

Sources

Anderson, A[lbert] W. “Report of the Signs of the Times.” Union Conference Record, October 1, 1906.

A[nderson], A[lbert] W. “Turkey Marching to Her Doom.” Signs of the Times, December 15, 1914.

“Atomic-Age Vegetables.” Signs of the Times, September 1959.

Baker, Alonzo. “Will Europe’s Powder Keg Explode?” Signs of the Times, January 7, 1935.

Beisler, Rebecca. “Flynn of the Inland.” Signs of the Times, September 2013.

Blyde, Brayden. “Holding Hands.” Signs of the Times, June 2014.

Bradshaw, John. “A Planet in Crisis.” Signs of the Times, March 2014.

Buckwalter, J. Arthur. “Spiritualism and Christianity.” Signs of the Times, January 21, 1935.

Carlin, John. “Remembering Mandala.” Signs of the Times, March 2014.

“Children’s Corner.” Australasian Signs of the Times, February 23, 1903.

Farnsworth, Eugene W.]. “What of the Night?” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 30, 1903.

Footer. Signs of the Times, April 9, 1906.

Fischer, Trafford, “New Love.” Signs of the Times, March 2014.

Hare, R[euben] E. “The Secretary’s Report.” Australasian Record, October 13, 1947.

Hefren, A[rchibald] L. “Life Sketch of Marian Hay.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 15, 1983.

James-Enger, Kelly. “Easy Ways to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables.” Signs of the Times, March 2014.

K[ing, A. L.]. “Back to the Bible!” Signs of the Times, January 28, 1935.

———. “The Eucharistic Congress.” Signs of the Times, January 14, 1935.

Kaplan, Samuel A. “The Jewish Question: How God Proposes to Solve It.” Signs of the Times, November 1959.

Kress, D[aniel] H. “Peace When There Is No Peace.” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 23, 1903.

Lee, Frederick. “China’s Place in the Sun.” Signs of the Times, January 5, 1925.

Masthead. Australasian Signs of the Times, January 26, 1903.

Masthead. Australasian Signs of the Times, February 9, 1903.

Masthead. Australasian Signs of the Times, April 11, 1904.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, January 2, 1905.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, January 31, 1916.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, January 1, 1923.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, January 19, 1925.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, December 23, 1935.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, January 1, 1945.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, November 3, 1947.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, May 21, 1956.

Masthead. Signs of the Times, May 1967.

Meyers, Cecil K. “Home Missions Department.” Australasian Record, October 21, 1918.

Mitchell, A[lbert] I. “Modern Supernatural Demonstrations.” Signs of the Times, January 21, 1935.

Naden, L[awrence] C. “Current Events in Prophecy’s Spotlight.” Signs of the Times, September 1959.

Pengilley, R[onald] E. “Signs Publishing Company Report.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, December 12, 1966.

Potter, J[ohn] J. “Signs Publishing Company.” Australasian Union Conference Bulletin, no. 1, [ 44 (1940)].

Price, George McCready. “A Call for a New Protestantism.” Signs of the Times, January 24, 1921.

Rudy, Henry. “Russia and the Kings of the East.” Signs of the Times, June 27, 1927.

Salisbury, W[ilbur] D. “Signs of the Times Publishing Association, Limited.” Union Conference Record, September 7, 1908.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Years 1904–2018.

Signs of the Times 18–93 (January 1903–December 1978). http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Periodicals/Forms/AllFolders.aspx.

Supplement. Australasian Signs of the Times, January 26, 1903.

Teasdale, Geo[rge]. “The Papacy.” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 9, 1903.

[Turner, William G.]. “Plans and Recommendations.” Australasian Record, September 19, 1932.

Ulrich, C[arl] F. L. “Report of the Signs Publishing Company.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, January 3, 1955.

Webster, Errol. “A Loving Creator Redeemer.” Signs of the Times, January/February 2013.

Westerman, W. J. “Home Missions Department.” Australasian Record, September 28, 1936.

“Will Kill Snakes.” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 30, 1903.

“Will the Jews Return to Palestine?” Signs of the Times, December 4, 1923.

W[hite], E[llen] G. “Character and Aims of the Papacy.” Signs of the Times, January 14, 1935.

Notes

  1. Supplement, Australasian Signs of the Times, January 26, 1903, 1–3; A[lbert] W. Anderson, “Report of the Signs of the Times,” Union Conference Record, October 1, 1906, 21, 22.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Masthead, Australasian Signs of the Times, January 26, 1903, [37].

  5. E.g., Masthead, Australasian Signs of the Times, February 9, 1903, 68.

  6. “List of Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and herald Publishing Association, 1904), 88.

  7. E.g., “Children’s Corner,” Australasian Signs of the Times, February 23, 1903, 93.

  8. E.g., “Will Kill Snakes,” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 30, 1903, 156.

  9. E.g., D[aniel] H. Kress, “Peace When There Is No Peace,” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 23, 1903, 143.

  10. E.g., [Eugene W. Farnsworth], “What of the Night?” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 30, 1903, 152.

  11. Masthead, Australasian Signs of the Times, April 11, 1904, 180.

  12. Masthead, Signs of the Times, January 2, 1905, [245].

  13. Footer, Signs of the Times, April 9, 1906, 168.

  14. Masthead, Signs of the Times, January 31, 1916, 80.

  15. E.g., Masthead, Signs of the Times, January 1, 1923, 3.

  16. E.g., Masthead, Signs of the Times, January 19, 1925, 25.

  17. E.g., Geo[rge] Teasdale, “The Papacy,” Australasian Signs of the Times, March 9, 1903, 111, 112.

  18. E.g., A[lbert] W. A[nderson], “Turkey Marching to Her Doom,” Signs of the Times, December 15, 1914, [801]–804.

  19. E.g., Henry Rudy, “Russia and the Kings of the East,” Signs of the Times, June 27, 1927, [1]–5.

  20. E.g., Frederick Lee, “China’s Place in the Sun,” Signs of the Times, January 5, 1925, 5, 6.

  21. E.g., George McCready Price, “A Call for a New Protestantism,” Signs of the Times, January 24, 1921, 15, 16.

  22. “Will the Jews Return to Palestine?” Signs of the Times, December 4, 1922, 195, 196.

  23. Anderson, “Report of the Signs of the Times.”

  24. W[ilbur] D. Salisbury, “Signs of the Times Publishing Association, Limited,” Union Conference Record, September 7, 1908, 41, 42.

  25. Cecil K. Meyers, “Home Missions Department,” Australasian Record, October 21, 1918, 16–18.

  26. [William G. Turner], “Plans and Recommendations,” Australasian Record, September 19, 1932, 4, 5.

  27. Masthead, Signs of the Times, December 23, 1935, 6

  28. E.g., Alonzo Baker, “Will Europe’s Powder Keg Explode?” Signs of the Times, January 7, 1935, 1, 2.

  29. E[llen] G. W[hite], “Character and Aims of the Papacy,” Signs of the Times, January 14, 1935, 7–10.

  30. A[lbert] I. Mitchell, “Modern Supernatural Demonstrations,” Signs of the Times, January 21, 1935, 8, 9.

  31. J. Arthur Buckwalter, “Spiritualism and Christianity,” Signs of the Times, January 21, 1935, 10, 11.

  32. [A. L.] K[ing], “The Eucharistic Congress,” Signs of the Times, January 14, 1935, 5, 6.

  33. [A. L.] K[ing],, “Back to the Bible!” Signs of the Times, January 28, 1935, 3.

  34. J[ohn] J. Potter, “Signs Publishing Company,” Australasian Union Conference Bulletin 1, [ 44, (1940)]: 12.

  35. W. J. Westerman, “Home Missions Department,” Australasian Record, September 28, 1936, 8–10.

  36. Potter, 12.

  37. Masthead, Signs of the Times, January 1, 1945, 3

  38. Masthead, Signs of the Times, November 3, 1947, 7.

  39. Masthead, Signs of the Times, May 21, 1956, 7.

  40. Masthead, Signs of the Times, May 1967, 1.

  41. A[rchibald] L. Hefren, “Life Sketch of Marian Hay,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 15, 1983, 13.

  42. Samuel A. Kaplan, “The Jewish Question: How God Proposes to Solve It,” Signs of the Times, November 1959, 16–18.

  43. L[awrence] C. Naden, “Current Events in Prophecy’s Spotlight,” Signs of the Times, September 1959, 6, 7, 31.

  44. “Atomic-Age Vegetables,” Signs of the Times, September 1959, 10.

  45. R[euben] E. Hare, “The Secretary’s Report,” Australasian Record, October 13, 1947, 1, 2, 6.

  46. C[arl] F.L. Ulrich, “Report of the Signs Publishing Company,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, January 3, 1955, 5, 6.

  47. Signs of the Times 74, no. 35 (September 1959).

  48. R[onald] E. Pengilley, “Signs Publishing Company Report,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, December 12, 1966, 4, 5.

  49. Kent Kingston, email to Milton Hook, March 13, 2018.

  50. “Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1982), 519.

  51. Kent Kingston, email to Milton Hook, March 13, 2018.

  52. “Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987), 547.

  53. Kent Kingston, email to Milton Hook, March 13, 2018.

  54. E.g., “Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1993), 509.

  55. Kent Kingston, email to Milton Hook, March 13, 2018.

  56. “Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005), 620.

  57. E.g., “Periodicals,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2012), 731.

  58. Kent Kingston, email message to Milton Hook, February 25, 2019.

  59. E.g., Rebecca Beisler, “Flynn of the Inland,” Signs of the Times, September 2013, 43–46.

  60. E.g., Kelly James-Enger, “Easy Ways to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables,” Signs of the Times 129, no. 3 (March 2014): 27–30.

  61. E.g., Trafford Fischer, “New Love,” Signs of the Times 129, no. 3 (March 2014): 26.

  62. E.g., Braden Blyde, “Holding Hands,” Signs of the Times 129, no. 6 (June 2014): 58–60.

  63. E.g., John Carlin, “Remembering Mandela,” Signs of the Times, March 2014, 32–36.

  64. E.g., Errol Webster, “A Loving Creator Redeemer,” Signs of the Times, January/February 2013, 50–52.

  65. E.g., John Bradshaw, “A Planet in Crisis,” Signs of the Times, March 2014, 14–18.

  66. Kent Kingston, email to Milton Hook, March 13, 2018.

×

Hook, Milton. "Signs of the Times, South Pacific Division." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed June 20, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=384X.

Hook, Milton. "Signs of the Times, South Pacific Division." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access June 20, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=384X.

Hook, Milton (2021, January 09). Signs of the Times, South Pacific Division. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 20, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=384X.