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Premillennialism and Church History, Part IV: Chiliasm and the Westminster Confession


Continuing in this series through the history of premillennialism, we now come to the 17th century and the Westminster Assembly. Nathaniel West in his essay, “History of the Premillennial Doctrine,” detailed this time period and event, affirming several important points:

  • The Westminster Assembly included a large number of chiliasts, including the chairman himself.
  • The wording of the Westminster confession in no way invalidates premillennialism, and its silence concerning the specifics of premillennialism no more proves that the 1,000 years are not a measure of time, or that the Pre-Millennial Advent is not true, than does the silence of Daniel and Paul, in their eschatology, prove that the later and more developed eschatology given by Christ Himself to John, is contradictory of the earlier and less developed, and on that account uninspired. The silence and the expression are both harmonized by the “apotelesmatic” character of both prophecy and symbolism.
  • The eschatology of the Westminster confession includes references to ideas which adhere to a non-allegorical interpretation (at least so far as basic sequence and ideas including the 1000 years being future)

The chiliasts among the Westminster divines: Dr. Twisse, the Prolocutor, described as an ardent disciple of Mede – the earliest well-known chiliast in the Protestant era. Also the following names: Marshall, Palmer, Caryl, Langley and Gataker, Greenhill and Burroughs (“the morning and evening stars of Stepney”), Goodwin, Ash, Bridge, Nye, Selden and Ainsworth, and Peter Sterry. The statements from the anti-chiliasts well attest to this fact, and that the chiliasts in the assembly were sound, orthodox men and not representing the false chiliasm. West includes quotes from several here, including Baillie: “Most of the chief divines here,” he murmured, “not only Independents, but others, as Twisse, Marshall, Palmer, and many more, are express Chiliasts.” (Letters, No. 117, Vol. II, p. 313) Vitringa says: “Very many erudite men, far removed from a carnal Chiliasm,—a carnali Chiliasmo alienos—gave suffrage to this view.” Principal Cunningham, of Scotland, has affirmed that they who entertained it were “of the soundest among the Westminster divines.”

A few further points from Nathaniel West, related to the Westminster Confession’s wording:

As in the earlier Scriptures, however, so here in these Standards, the “Last things” are crowded together in one picture, of which the Parousia is the centre, and not distributed, or separated into their temporal relations, as in the Apocalypse. The 1,000 years are not named precisely as they are not named by Daniel, Christ, or Paul, but are implicate throughout. Any argument drawn from the silence, or non-mention of the 1,000 years by the Standards, against the truth of the pre-millennial advent, is an argument against the canonicity of the Apocalypse, which is not silent, but does mention these years, uncovering only what is elsewhere concealed or pre-intimated, 1 Cor. 15:23, 24, and arrays, at once, the Apocalypse against all the other Scriptures.

In response to amillennial and postmillennial thought, West lays emphasis as well on the overall eschatology, and hermeneutical approach, of the Westminster Confession:

In the Westminster Standard Rome is Papal, not Pagan; Antichrist is the Pope, not Nero; the Parousia is personal and visible, not merely spiritual and providential; the breath of the Lord’s mouth that slays “that Wicked” is judicial, not evangelical; Antichristianity is destroyed, not converted by a revival; the Dragon is the Devil, not Paganism; the “tribes of the earth” that mourn when Christ comes are not merely the Jews, but all nations; the “earth” is not simply Palestine, but the planet; and the “clouds,” on which the Son of Man comes to the Judgment, are not “poetic drapery borrowed from judicial imagery,” but atmospheric thunder-heads. … The Domitianic date of the Apocalypse and the Year-Day theory, are interwoven through the Standards of Westminster, which are the strongest pre-millennial symbol ever made, buttressed by every proposition needed for that conclusion.

Explanatory note: the ‘Year-Day’ theory is a construct of historicism, such that prophetic days are really “years” and thus the 1,260 days of the Great Tribulation are actually 1260 years. See this article, from historicist historic premillennialist H.G. Guinness (1879)

and

None in the Westminster Assembly ever took ground that the 1,000 years are not a measure of time. The vast majority dated their commencement, not from Constantine, but from the Judgment on the Papal Antichrist, so repudiating the idea that Armageddon and the overthrow of Gog are identical, and refusing to violently rend the indissolvable temporal sequence of Rev. chapter 20th upon chapter 19th, or to identify the “Parousia,” with the “End,” in 1 Cor. 15:24. Clearly, they refused to arbitrarily interject the 1,000 years between the Judgment on Antichrist and the Parousia, but made both these events contemporate. They thus threw the 1,000 years into the future, beyond the Second Advent; in other words, made the Parousia pre-millennarian. And because the reign of Antichrist can not contemporate with the Millennial triumph over Antichrist,—the 1,260 years with the 1,000 years—but is the core of the Kingdom of Satan and Sin, they expounded the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer as invoking, among other things, the fullness of the Gentiles, the conversion of the Jews, the overthrow of Satan’s Kingdom, so “hastening the time of Christ’s Second Coming and our reigning with Him forever.” Emphasis was laid on this in the Scotch Directory for Public Prayer. The classic passage in Acts 3:19-21, pre-intimating the conversion of the Jews, miraculous, like that of the healed cripple, leaping and praising God and ascending to the Holy Temple, they referred to the time of the Second Advent, the Last, the Judgment Day, the “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” and paralleled it with the “Rest” that comes to the troubled Church, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven.” (2 Thess. 1:7.) And because the 1,000 years come after, and not before, the Judgment on Antichrist, and in view of the fact that the hour of Christ’s coming is unknown to men, they declared it to be the duty of all men, now to “shake off all carnal security,” and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and be ever prepared to say: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Pre-millennarians could ask no more.

One final selection regarding the doctrine of premillennialism and the Westminster Confession:

The pre-millennial advent is no merely allowable interpretation, to be graciously tolerated among “heretics,” by ostensibly orthodox men, who cut the Standards down while professing to defend them, but is an imposed corollary, implicate in the very warp and woof of the symbol itself, an immediate conclusion without a middle term, the rejection of which is an open abandonment of the Reformed ground, and open assault upon the Westminster Confession.

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  1. August 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Wow! I like it! No, love it! NW, you be the man!

    • August 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Yes, there’s a lot of good historical information available from Nathaniel West, plus a few other sources of premill history online, good information to dig up!

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