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Premillennialism in Church History: Part VI, the Return to Futurism

August 15, 2014 4 comments

Continuing in this series through Premillennialism in Church History, we come finally to the 19th century and the development of Futurist Premillennialism, after over two hundred years of Protestant, historicist premillennialism. Nathaniel West did not address this issue, the development of futurism, in his essay “History of the Premillennial Doctrine.”  Thus, the following information comes from several online sources, pulled together for overall information.

As briefly noted concerning the early church, the chiliasts understood the prophetic texts as referring to actual 1260 days as ordinary days, and affirmed that there would come a future 3 ½ year tribulation period during which antichrist would rule and persecute the saints during this time just prior to Christ’s Second Advent. The 5th century introduced “realized eschatology” and an allegorical hermeneutic for the “church triumphant” Roman Catholic church, and the corruption and apostasy of that age finally led to believers embracing the idea that the Pope is really the antichrist, and therefore we are not now in the kingdom but in the age which occurs BEFORE Christ returns to slay the antichrist and inaugurate His kingdom – hence the return to premillennialism, though of this historicist variety, during the early Protestant era — late 16th through the 17th century, and continuing in opposition to the newer postmillennial idea through the 18th century.

Yet for several centuries into the Protestant era, the identification of the Pope with antichrist held as a very strong idea, such that the suggestion that the antichrist described in Revelation was a future ruler (and not the Catholic Pope) was taken as being pro-Catholic. Further complicating the matter was the fact that, in the post-Reformation era, it was the Catholics who first suggested a futurist view – and their motivation did appear to be the cause of promoting Catholicism and deflecting criticism from the Pope. The Jesuit Ribera in the late 16th century first proposed the futuristic approach, in his commentary (1590) on the book of Revelation. As noted by several sources, the early 19th century saw the development of futurism, within Protestantism, from two groups: Protestants who disagreed with the Reformation and had leanings toward Rome, but also by the continually-reforming type Protestants who saw that the Reformation had not been completed. Both of these groups recognized and referenced the tradition of the early church in reference to a future antichrist reigning for 3 ½ years just prior to Christ’s return.

The earliest Protestant futurist premillennialists included S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, William De Burgh and Isaac Williams. As Robert Gundry observed, in Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism  (specific page viewable here and click ‘page’ to see the full page):

Historicism having discredited itself through the fixing of dates and fantastic interpretations of current events, Maitland, Todd, Burgh and Isaac Williams restored premillennial futurism to Protestant circles. Tregelles, B.W. Newton, Nathaniel West, and many others followed. Both premillennialism and futurism revived before the first glimmer of pretribulationism.

The later futurists – Tregelles, B.W. Newton and others – have previously been noted, and included in the list of resources here.  Many of the writings of these earliest Protestant, futurist premillennialists, can be found online.  Following are several links to these:

George Ladd’s “The Blessed Hope” (Google view of this section available here) also provides much of the history, including details about Ribera the earliest (post-Reformation) futurist (an amillennial futurist), as well as the three key Protestant futurists (S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, and William Burgh), noting their clearly historic premillennial yet futurist understanding. An excerpt:

Burgh knows of only one coming of Christ, at the end of the Tribulation when the dead in Christ shall be raised and the living believers raptured. He believed that Israel was to be restored at the end of the age when the seventieth week of Daniel would occur. Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel only to break it in the midst of the week and to turn in wrath against Israel. … These early futurists followed a pattern of prophetic events similar to that found in the early fathers, with the necessary exception that Rome was not the final kingdom. In fact they appealed to the fathers against the popular historical interpretation for support of their basic view. A pretribulational rapture is utterly unknown by these men, and while Israel is to be restored, the gospel which Israel will preach in the millennium is the Gospel of grace, and those who are saved are included in the Church. The Tribulation concerns both Israel and the Church; in fact, it will be the time of testing an apostate Christianity.

The theological debate within premillennialism, historicism versus futurism, continued throughout the 19th century in the form of many papers written by one side opposing the other or responding to the other. The anti-Catholic historicist view still held on with some historic premillennialiasts, who saw the futurist view as being sympathetic to Catholicism. Though some who promoted a futurist view during this time did have sympathies toward Catholicism, clearly not were pro-Catholic, but returning to the original chiliast futurist premillennial faith. H.G. Guinness’ 1905 book, History Unveiling Prophecy (see pages 284-295), is a good example of the historicist rhetoric against futurism. Guinness’ protest against the futurist view adds his own emotional involvement in the issue as being one about the Pope, including faulty reasoning that if the Pope is not said to be THE antichrist spoken of in the scriptures, then the Pope would really be the vicar of Christ. He apparently could not understand a third possibility, that the Pope is AN antichrist (of which there have been and are many, as per 1 John), while recognizing that the prophetic scriptures speak instead of a future antichrist who will rule for 3 ½ years rather than 1260 years.

The only other development within overall premillennialism is the well-known one begun by Darby and his associates, what continues today as pre-tribulational dispensational premillennialism, a topic well-known with popularity especially in the U.S. Non-dispensational, historic premillennialism continues today with such organizations as the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony in England, and other resources available online. Most premillennialists today are futurist, though I hear of a few exceptions, as for instance author James M. Hamilton, who take the historicist approach instead.

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

August 12, 2014 2 comments

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.’

 

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

August 6, 2014 2 comments

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.

Premillennialism in Church History, Part III: The Reformation, and Return to Chiliasm

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Continuing with this series on Premillennialism in Church History, now part III: the return to premillennialism in the Protestant era.

It was the failure of the apostate “church triumphant” Roman Catholic church that led to the Reformation–as well as the return to the original chiliast doctrine. This section I find particularly interesting: that the late-medieval historicist idea of the Pope identified as the antichrist, provided the logical consequence of abandoning amillennialism and embracing chiliasm, albeit in a modified, historicist, version.

As seen from the chiliast writings, premillennialism was originally futurist, at least so far as recognizing, from texts in Daniel and Revelation, that at some yet future point in time antichrist would come and reign for 3 ½ years, which would be followed by Christ’s return, at which time He would deliver His people and slay the antichrist. The medieval eschatology introduced by the apostate church shifted the basic thinking — this great, successful church triumphant era was the millennium spoken of in the scriptures – along with the introduction of allegorical hermeneutics, and the non-literal interpretation of events once considered future. When the literal plain language hermeneutic is abandoned, anything goes in terms of interpreting the prophetic texts of the Bible, and thus the church began to think of prophecy as “symbolically” describing actual events occurring in history in the early Christian era. As mentioned in the previous post, of course, the difficulty here is that no one knows for certain what those actual events really are, as many actual events can be “correlated” to various scriptural “symbolic” events. Throughout the Middle Ages, past events were correlated to certain apocalyptic wars; but when the end of the world did not occur around 1000 A.D. and the start of the 1000 years shifted, it was convenient enough to ascribe “Gog and Magog” of Revelation 20 to the Ottoman Turk empire invading Christendom.

Following in this allegorical type of thinking, by the 12th century some Christians began to express doubts about this age really being the millennium. As Nathaniel West observed:

 Scintillations of light, however, began to gleam through the Papal darkness. The lapse of centuries had been required in order to lay the historic basis for a true interpretation, in connection with prophecy, of the Apostasy and Antichrist, and to demonstrate the early error that confined the 1,260 days to the Pagan persecution, Babylon to the Secular City of Rome, and Antichrist to Nero. Goth and Vandal had indeed scourged the apostatizing empire. Saracens had accomplished their mission. Turks were executing theirs. Christendom “repented not” of its crimes and idolatries. (Rev. 9:20, 21.) The sacred page had predicted things of Rome not fulfilled either under the sword of Constantine or Attilla. Antichrist had not been revealed when the “let” was taken out of the way. (2 Thess. 2: 7.)

The idea of identifying the “Church” with evil had come up before; the corruption in the papacy gradually brought it to the forefront, that the Roman “Church” itself was the evil Babylon of scripture:

Even Jerome had intimated long ago that Babylon was the “Church” and Gregory had uttered some ominous words about John the Faster as “the Forerunner of Antichrist,” which the act of his own successor Boniface III only intensified. “The days of Antichrist are come,” said he, “this proud bishop is like Lucifer—0 tempora, 0 mores!” (Villemain, Life of Gregory, p. 96.) … Convictions began to grow, as the predicted marks of Antichrist broke out like plague-spots on the body of the “Man at Rome,” not only that the Seven-hilled City was the seat of the Antichrist about to be revealed in all his blaspheming and persecuting deformity, but that the Roman “Church” itself was no less than the “Babylon” of the Apocalypse.

The logical implications of this became obvious to many, given the basic sequence of events in biblical eschatology: if the Pope is the antichrist, and the antichrist is destroyed by Christ before He establishes His kingdom, then since the Pope is still here and not destroyed, therefore we are not in the kingdom now. As expressed by a German writer, “The contemporaneousness of the Beast and the 1,000 years’ kingdom, or even the contemporaneousness of the existence and dominion of the Beast and the imprisonment of Satan, is a monstrous thought.” (Koch, Das tausend., Reich, 197.) The Protestant idea fixed the final judgment as being on the Papal Antichrist, associated with Christ’s Second Advent, and threw the 1,000 years into the future: not in the medieval period, but beyond the Second Advent.

And what the value of this for Chiliasm? What the bearing of this mighty movement? Much, every way, infinitely much. Ere even the Reformers were aware, the back-bone of the Lateran theory of the millennium was broken. The 1,000 years were thrown into the future. The medieval position was flanked and turned by an act of Providence—the Reformation—and the pretended Millennial Kingdom of Christ was held to be what Eberhard had called it, “the Babylonian Empire of Antichrist.” The movement that restored the Apostolic doctrine of the Church, opened the door for the restoration of the doctrine of the pre-millennial advent of Christ. If the Man of Sin (2Thess. 2:3.) is the Antichrist, (Uohn 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 7,) an identity unanimously held by the whole primitive Church as well as the Reformers, and, if this Antichrist is the Pope, the Head of the Papacy, figured by the Beast and False Prophet (Rev. 13:1-18); an identity unanimously held by the purest Catholics of the Middle Age, the Albingenses, Waldenses, and the whole Reformation— “communem Protestantium sententiam” (De Moor VI. 82-117. Turrettin IV. 147-177,) to be destroyed by the Parousia of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8. Rev. 19:11-21) and which destruction comes before the 1,000 years, as all interpreters of every school admit, then the demonstration is simply adamantine that the millennium is future and dependent on the Second Advent for its inauguration, when Christ shall personally and visibly come to destroy Antichrist by a sentence of judgment from His lips before all nations. The most ingenious Preterism is incompetent to evade this conclusion without first assailing, either covertly or openly, the Reformation doctrine and repudiating its symbols on this subject, and especially the strongest of them all, the Westminster standards.

The actual re-introduction of chiliasm had a few more obstacles to overcome, including the carnal, false premillennialism of extremist groups, including Thomas Miinzeer and the Anabaptists, the Prophets of Zwickau, and later the Fifth Monarchy men (Cromwell’s time, the 17th century), the notion of a secular kingdom of the saints, set up by fire and sword, and before the resurrection—a purely later Jewish conception. Calvin and the other Reformers attacked this false premillennialism in an environment still devoid of true, biblical premillennialism. Nathaniel West details the situation of Calvin’s day and the Augsburg confession, pointing out that the anti-millennial attacks of that time were directed against a false Chiliasm.

Here, too, belongs the strong protest of the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XL and the celebrated XVIIth Article of the Augsburg Confession, so “ill understood” by many who assume it to be aimed against a PreMillennial Advent of Christ, because aimed against a false Chiliasm. On the contrary, it only condemns those who scatter “Judaicas opiniones” and Melancthon’s comment in the “Variatio” expressly inserts “Anabaptistas” as those to whom the article referred. (Prolog. Var. Hase Lib. Symbol, p. XVIII. Walch. Introd. Luth. Symb. p. 314.) To the same parties are the “Judaica somnia” condemned in the Helvetic Confession, attributed, as also in the Belgic Confession. (Niemeyer, Coll. Conf. pp. 486, 387.)

Next time: A look at the Westminster confession, and its presentation of eschatology which is not at all in contradiction to premillennialism but follows even the biblical presentation style – and the chiliasts who understood and affirmed that confession.

Premillennialism in Church History, Part II

July 28, 2014 5 comments

Continuing from Part I in this series, now for a brief look at the early medieval period, when the martyr doctrine was itself martyred. As well established from the available writings of the early church, the true church pre-Constantine (those who were of the Christian faith and not heretics) affirmed chiliasm. Nathaniel West’s essay points out the connection between the martyrs and their “martyr doctrine,” the hope of the future reign with Christ. Premillennialism is the doctrine of the martyred church, a great truth that has no place in apostate Christianity, that false faith that springs forth in times of peace, free from persecution.

This part of the history is more known to premillennialists, at least in general terms: the allegorical approach in the Alexandrian school, and Augustine formulating what is now called amillennialism, including “progressive parallelism” as a “spiritual” answer in response to the “carnal” excesses of some chiliast groups. And the political climate after Constantine, the church triumphant, was contrary to the idea of the persecuted church and a future time of Christ ruling the earth – after all, the church is doing just fine now, so this must be the kingdom.

The details here are interesting, though, as to the spiritualizing that took place. I had not realized that the Roman Catholic idea of venerating the saints, their bones having miraculous power, setting forth images of them, etc., was the 5th century papacy’s advancing of their reinterpretation of the former chiliast (premillennial) faith, “the reign of the risen saints.”

 The fatal blow to the doctrine of Polycarp and Irenaeus was given, first of all, by a Roman Pope, whose secretary was Jerome, at the close of the fourth century — Damasus I., A.D. 380 — who condemned the martyr faith as a ” heresy,” in the person of Appolinarius, the opposer of the principles of Origen and Dionysius, while the advancing Papacy began to expound the reign of the risen saints, — ” secundum ana gogen!” — as meaning their idolatrous worship, the miraculous virtue of their bones, the presence of their images, the sanctity of their tombs, and their ghostly intercession.

Nathaniel West provides some great quotes at this point of the history:

 The martyr age had passed away. No more councils like that of Nice, in which martyrs, fresh from the Maximian persecution, answered to their names. No Paphnutius, any more, venerable with silver hairs, one eye gouged out by the tool of the Pagan torturer, its frightful socket seared with red-hot iron, both legs ham-strung, and standing beside young Athanasius of only twenty-seven summers, defending the orthodox faith. A new generation has appeared, intoxicated with the Christian conquest of heathenism, the careering splendor of a church and state establishment, and whirling a mystic dance around the tranquility of the empire. As the aspect of outward affairs changed under Constantine, these views lost their hold on men’s minds. The church now prepared for a long-continued period of temporal prosperity, and the State-Church of that time forgot the millennial glory of the future.

By union of church and state, and perversion of victory, the foundation was laid in the empire for a carnal caricature of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth before the time. A Millennium sunk in the gross materialism and idolatry of medieval, political and military Christianity. By union of church and state, the martyr doctrine itself was martyred, not merely the unfortunate Jewish admixtures cast away, but the truth itself rejected, no council resisting, and vanished from view with the departing glory and last remnant of a suffering but pure apostolic church.

The “church is the kingdom” idea really only prevailed until about the 12th century, and this particular form of amillennialism had a temporal starting point, to continue for 1000 years until some yet-future time. First it was to end in the 6th century (the world’s six thousand years to have ended); then around 1000 A.D.: 1000 years after Christ’s birth. When nothing happened then, the starting date for the kingdom was changed to begin with Constantine’s victory in the year 312 A.D.. As West aptly observed: This new lease of three centuries caused the Ottoman Turk invading Christiandom to be regarded as the Gog and Magog of Revelation, and reserved for the fourteenth century another Antichiliastic panic, revived by the Flagellants and Loquis, less extensive, however, than the former; and followed by the general opinion that the 1,000 years were of indefinite duration.

It was the corruption in the Catholic church, the wickedness seen in the Pope and his system, that gradually brought people to see that this age of the Church is not the kingdom. And that leads to another interesting point, for next time: the connection between Historicism, and the Pope as AntiChrist, and the Return to Premillennialism.

Chiliasm: Premillennialism in Church History, Part I

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

The following is the first in a short blog series, with details concerning the history of premillennialism, from the early church through the Puritan era. Further resources for this information: Nathaniel West’s History of the Premillennial Doctrine (1879), and “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer, Or, a History of the Doctrine of the Reign of Christ on Earth” by Daniel Thompson Taylor (1855).  Nathaniel West’s essay is a good overview and defense of premillennialism, in which he points out the true positions of early teachers and later attempted criticism of this hope of the martyr church. The earlier book (by D.T. Taylor) is a more comprehensive look at the actual history, with more details including many quotes from premillennialists through the centuries.

For today, a look at what the early church believed, and the scriptures they referenced in support of chiliasm – from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius and several others. Contrary to what is sometimes said about the early church, and what is sometimes presented as “historic premillennialism,” the early church had very definite ideas concerning what Revelation was about (quite opposite to what a local church pastor has often claimed, that the earliest believers didn’t understand the book of Revelation and didn’t know what it was about), and their premillennialism was based on many texts of scripture beyond the “one text” presentation of Revelation 20, including many Old Testament passages.

  • Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace,” and the promise in the gospels, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • Revelation 20, Genesis creation, Isaiah 65:17, Psalm 90:4; (also Peter’s reference in 2 Peter 3); Zechariah 14. (Note these verse also in reference to the millennial week concept of creation, including the six thousand years of history followed by the seventh thousand as the millennial era.)
  • That the city of Jerusalem would be “built, adorned, and enlarged according to the Prophets.” (Justin Martyr)

As noted in this previous post, the early church also affirmed a future 3 ½ year Tribulation, during which the believers will be persecuted by antichrist, after which Christ will Return. They especially understood the parallels between Daniel 7 and the book of Revelation, and that Revelation gives more temporal information of what Daniel’s account compresses, and that these passages refer to Christ’s Second Advent. Consider the following parallels, as presented by Nathaniel West:

As to the Cloud Comer:
Daniel 7:18 “I went on gazing in the night’s visions, and behold! One like a Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven,” etc.
Revelation 1:7 “Behold! He cometh in clouds, and every eye shall see Him; they also that pierced Him.”

As to the Persecuting Antichristian Beast:
Daniel 7:21, 22 “I went on gazing, and the same Horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came,”
Rev. 11:7; 18:7; 17:14. “The Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” “War with the saints and overcome them.”

As to the time of the Dominance of the Beast:
Dan 7:25. “They shall be given into his hands for a time, times, and the dividing of a time.”
Rev. 12:14; 11:2, 3. “For a time, times, and half a time.” “Forty and two months.” “A thousand, two hundred and threescore days.”

As to the Judgment on the Antichristian Beast:
Dan. 7:9, 10, 22, 26, 11. “I went on gazing till the thrones were placed and the Ancient of Days did sit,” -etc. “The judgment was set and the books were opened.” “And judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” “The judgment shall sit,” etc. “I went on gazing—till the Beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.”
Rev. 19:11; 20:4, 12; 19:20, 21. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse,” etc. “I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “And I saw a great white throne, and the books were opened.” “And I saw the Beast,” etc. “And the Beast was taken, and with him the False Prophet that wrought miracles before them,” etc. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat on the horse,” etc.

As to the Kingdom and Reign of the triumphant saints:
Dan. 7:18, 22, 27. “The time came that the saints possessed the Kingdom.” “The saints of the Most High shall take the Kingdom forever, even for ever and ever.” “And the Kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom,” etc.
Rev. 6:10; 11:15; 20:4, 5. “We shall reign with thee on the earth.” “The Kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever, and ever.” “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,” etc. “And they lived and reigned a thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”

As to the Blessedness of the Millennial Reign:
Dan. 12:12, 18. “Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days.” “Thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”
Rev. 20:6 “Blessed and holy is He that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power. But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

An excerpt from Nathaniel West on this point:

The prophetic page of Daniel was regarded as a sacred calendar of the future, measuring the range of successive Gentile empires from the captivity date to the finishing of the mystery of God under the seventh trumpet, embracing the conversion of the Jews or recall of Israel to the covenant, the overthrow of Antichrist, the first Resurrection, and the Millennial Reign and Final Judgment. (Rev. 10:7; 11:15; Rom. 11:26; Rev. 19:20; 20: 1-7)—a course of history spanning 490 years of the later Jewish dispensation, all the Christian dispensation closing with the overthrow of the Beast and Little Horn, and the erection of Daniel’s fifth and everlasting Kingdom as an external polity, upon the extinct polities of all nations. The whole time thus covered, by this scope, was the long period of Israel’s expectation, running parallel with the Captivity, Restoration, Rejection, the times of the Antichristian Apostacy—all this the “Times of the Gentiles,”—together with the ” Time of the End,” and of the 1,000 years. The prophetic page of John, too, was regarded by the early Church as a compend, not of the details, but of the chief events and results of history in their relation to the coming Kingdom, a further development of the vision of Daniel, depicting the rise and progress of Antichrist, the final overthrow of the Roman Empire, and the judgment on Antichrist at the end of the 1,260 days—the Great Image no longer standing on its feet, Beast and False Prophet no longer existing, the Millennial Kingdom coming with One who comes in the clouds of Heaven. With such a view it was impossible for the early Church not to be Pre-Millennarian, for the visions of Daniel (chap. 7) and John (Apoc. chaps. 4-22) were one.

Next Time: The Martyr doctrine that was itself martyred