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Premillennialism in Church History, Part V: Historicist Premillennialism and Post-millennialism


Continuing with this series, Premillennialism in Church History: the Puritan era ended with more political stability, the Reformation and Protestant era having effected some changes to allow more peace and freedom in religious practice. In his history of premillennialism, Nathaniel West observed this change, which began in the late 17th century, and the related millennial views. Again premillennialism proves itself to be the doctrine of the martyred, persecuted church, a doctrine that does not thrive so easily in times of peace and prosperity.

The Church of Christ can not bear prosperity and peace in this Age, and not become corrupt in doctrine and practice. All history confirms the observation. Times of peace are times of peril for the truth. With the return of relief after fifteen years of the Commonwealth under Cromwell, and with the reactionary restoration of semi-popery under Charles and James, England, though hallowed with martyr blood, once more reared aloft her “mitred front.” The martyr doctrine fell into disrepute. The revocation of the Edict of Nantz by Louis XIV., that crowning perfidy of King and Court, assisted to promote the reaction. … The Roman religion again became fashionable. On all sides the cry was heard for Organic union, reconstruction of the Church, and demolition of dissenting Creeds, a project that baffled the genius of even a Bossuet and Leibnitz. And so the wretched times went on.

It was in such a climate that postmillennialism, then referred to as Whitbyism for its creator, Daniel Whitby, was first introduced as a “new hypothesis.”

This theory met with acceptance; all the more that it had built itself upon the interpolated text of Justin, the misapplied passage of Irenaeus, the misrepresentations of Christian Chiliasm by Origen, Dionysius, Eusebius, by twisted quotations from the fathers, and by ascribing the paternity of Chiliasm to Jewish apocryphal writings, and Sibylline oracles; and all the more that it fortified itself with the glowing language of the prophets, regardless of New Testament eschatology, and not only paraded ingeniously the indiscreet utterances of certain men, but attributed to the defenders of true Chiliasm sentiments they never held. But still more. The terrible condition of Europe, just after the French Revolution, the powerful preaching of the gospel, the earnest prayer, the “Great Awakening” under the outpoured Spirit, marking the eighteenth century, the new era of missions, Bible, tract, and other societies, the increased interest felt in the conversion of the Jews, the established concert of prayer for the “conversion of the world,” all contributed to make the Whitbyan theory popular.

Though the idea appeared to be new, and indeed this was the first time the idea was so well accepted, yet its very premise had long since been considered and outright rejected. What J.C. Ryle had recently published (at the time of Nathaniel West’s history), “I believe that the world will never be completely converted to Christianity by any existing agency before the end comes,” was only the same thing said by John Knox a few centuries earlier: “To reform the face of the whole earth, is a thing that will never be done until that King and Judge appear for the restitution of all things.”

Yet this time, from the late 17th through the 18th century, still provided many believers who continued to uphold the premillennial faith: John Bunyan; the French Calvinists (exiled Huguenots) Jurieu and Daubuz; followed by many prominent theologians of the 18th century:  Increase and Cotton Mather; John Gill; Augustus Toplady; as well as lesser-known names such as William Newcome; Thomas Newton; Alexander Pirie; John Fletcher; Joseph Perry; Joshua Spaulding, and many others.

D.T. Taylor’s “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer” (available online here) includes selected writings from many 18th century names, detailing some of their specific views regarding the millennial question. Here we learn that John Wesley followed the teaching of John Bengel, an interesting hybrid of postmillennialism AND premillennialism: first the thousand years of peace on the Earth promised by postmillennialism (said to start in 1836), followed by Christ’s return and another thousand years during which the saints reign in heaven, and affirming the literal truth of Revelation 20:6 about the First Resurrection. We do not know with certainty the views of some of the hymn writers, yet noting their hymns that teach and agree with premillennialism, as with Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Others directly addressed and affirmed premillennialism: the Mathers, John Gill, Augustus Toplady, and the other names mentioned above.

The quotes compiled by D.T. Taylor primarily focus on understanding of Revelation 20 and the First Resurrection as a literal resurrection of saints and martyrs, followed by the resurrection of the damned at the end of the 1000 years. Yet a few premillennialists considered other scriptures and related teachings, as with the Mathers in reference to the future restoration of Israel.  John Gill in his overall presentation of premillennialism, with seven points regarding Christ’s “special, peculiar, glorious, and visible kingdom, in which he will reign personally on earth”, quoted as proofs, Psalms 45,96; Isa. 24 : 23; Rev. 21: 23; Isa. 30: 26,27, 30; Jer. 23: 5, 6; Ezek. 21: 27; Dan. 2: 44; Zech. 14: 9; Matt. 6: 10; also 20: 21-23; Luke 1: 32-33; also 23: 42, 43; Acts 1: 7; 2 Tim. 4: 1.  Gill’s seven points:

 1. I call it a special, peculiar kingdom, different from the kingdom of nature, and from his spiritual kingdom.

2. It will be very glorious and visible; hence his appearing and kingdom are put together.—2 Tim. 4: 1.

3. This kingdom will be, after all the enemies of Christ and of his people are removed out of the way.

4. Antichrist will be destroyed; an angel, who is no other than Christ, will then, personally descend to bind Satan and all his angels.

5. This kingdom of Christ will be bounded by two resurrections; by the first resurrection, or the resurrection of the just, at which it will begin; and by the second resurrection, or the resurrection of the wicked, at which it will end, or nearly.

6. This kingdom will be before the general judgment, especially of the wicked. John, after he had given an account of the former, (Rev. 20,) relates a vision of the latter.

7. This glorious, visible kingdom of Christ will be on earth, and not in heaven; and so is distinct from the kingdom of heaven, or ultimate glory.

It must be noted that the premillennialism of this time was historicist. This view, held since medieval times, maintained its hold through the 18th century and still dominated throughout much of the 19th century. Central to the historicist view was the day-year theory, argued by Daubuz and others, such that the 1260 days of biblical prophecy represented instead 1260 years, and even the “five months” mentioned in Revelation were understood as “150 days” and therefore 150 years. Here too we see their inconsistency, arguing for an allegorical understanding of some scripture passages that mention “days” while firmly holding to the literal and non-allegorical meaning of 1000 years. Daubuz, insisting on the year-day theory, yet argued from church history — the tradition of the Jews as well as the early church regarding the creation week and the “millennial week” and thus:

However, the 1000 years is really 1000 years, based on history and the creation week idea of chiliasm. The Jews had it, as did the early church. …By consequence, that term of one thousand years is to be taken in a literal sense, and must consist of a thousand years in the common acceptation of the word, and needs no farther evolution, as some of late have pretended, because it is fixed by that traditional allegory.

A consistent appeal for premillennialism based on what the early church believed – the millennial week and a future antichrist for 3 ½ years instead of 1260 years – would have to wait until the 19th century. More next time, Part VI, on that development.

To conclude, a few quotes from 18th century premillennialists for consideration:

Augustus Toplady: “I am one of those old fashioned people who believe the doctrine of the Millennium, and that there will be two distinct resurrections of the dead: 1st, of the just, and second of the unjust; which last resurrection of the reprobate will not commence till a thousand years after the resurrection of the elect. In this glorious interval of a thousand years, Christ I apprehend, will reign in person over the kingdom of the just; and that during this dispensation, different degrees of glory will obtain, and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor, 1 Cor. 3: 8.”

Joshua Spaulding (1796):

The expectation of a Millennium arises from the prophecies concerning the future kingdom of Christ—the kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ—his taking to himself his great power, and reigning before all his ancients gloriously. We are plainly told, this glorious event shall take place under the sounding of the seventh trumpet. This none disputes. All agree that the expected reign of Christ upon earth will be in the days of the voice of the seventh trumpet. The question disputed, and which we would examine, is, whether probationary time will end, and the great day of God’s wrath will come at the beginning or at the ending of the seventh trumpet. It was the expectation of believers anciently, that probationary time would end, and the great day of God’s wrath would come before the Millennial kingdom under the seventh trumpet: but in the last century an opinion gained currency that the Millennium would be probationary time; and therefore the coming of Christ, and overthrow of this world, of the ungodly, would not take place till some time after the Millennium. This opinion has constantly prevailed; all hands, learned and unlearned, have been employed to propagate it, and very little has been done or said to oppose- it; and for about half a century it has been the most common belief, consequently people have laid aside all expectation that the day of the Lord is nigh, and old and young, ministers and people, have agreed to say, The Lord delayeth his coming. But so agrees not the voice of Revelation. The angel said at the beginning, not at the close; when the seventh angel shall begin to sound—then there should be time no longer—then the mystery of God should be finished—then the elders said, ‘Thy wrath is come.’

 

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  1. Robert Hodgetts
    August 13, 2014 at 4:56 am

    hello, do you know anyone who teaches on this subject,

    Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:01:23 +0000 To: hodgettsrobert@hotmail.com

    • August 13, 2014 at 6:56 am

      Are you referring to premillennialism itself? Many teachers, as noted in the resources on this page.
      For church history and premillennialism, good resources include Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and D.T. Taylor’s “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer” are quite helpful.

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