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The Difference Between Historicism and Historic Premillennialism

December 20, 2013 2 comments

Two similar words, historicism and historic, are often confused, such that it is common to find people describing “historic premillennialism” as a historicist view of prophecy: that the prophetic events in the Bible are symbolic of various events throughout history.  Historicism is really one of four approaches to the prophetic chapters of Revelation, and the historicist approach is not limited to any particular millennial view, premillennialism or other.  After all, the 16th century Reformers were amillennial and historicist, seeing the pope and Catholic system in their day as the antichrist.

The term “historic premillennialism” refers simply to the historic (not historicist) view of premillennialism, a term broad enough to include the variations among many believers throughout church history, with no association to whatever other doctrines they may have believed.  This grouping includes the early church fathers, who showed understanding of future events and their sequence, as briefly quoted previously here  — a futurist understanding (that the prophetic events are future to our age, not occurring throughout history).

Within the Protestant era, historic premillennialists generally came from the post-Reformation background including Covenant Theology, and 18th century premillennialists such as John Gill also had a historicist view of prophecy.  The mid-19th century premillennialists came from the background of this historicist approach, but through their emphasis on the literal hermeneutic  understood the problem with historicism: simply, that the events described in Revelation have not yet happened.  It is interesting as well to read Benjamin Wills Newton put forth the same futurist arguments as modern-day writers, for a rebuilding of Babylon to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in Revelation (prophecies which tell of a destruction of Babylon that has not yet happened), in a detailed look at the actual history of Babylon and its surrounding region up to the mid-19th century.

Newton, in Thoughts on the Apocalypse, also shared this then-new development of a more literal understanding and futurist approach.  As he noted, we do see some of the same characteristics, in our age, of the great evil events yet to come: a kind of foreshadowing as history moves toward its conclusion, as the events of world history move closer and closer toward the final manifestation, the antiChrist’s rule.  But we must go beyond the historic similarities, the application, to the direct meaning of the text and what God intends as His primary communication to us in His word:

(Concerning Revelation 17-18):

We cannot, therefore, be surprised that this chapter has frequently been applied by the servants of God, in different ages, to those ruling systems which they have severally recognized in their own day as hostile to the people and to the truth of Christ, whilst perhaps blasphemously assuming His authority and name. Nor were they altogether wrong in this; for what ecclesiastical body, I might add, what secular body, has yet arisen in the earth, that has set itself to order the ways of men either in their relations toward Christ or in their natural relations toward God, that has not run counter to His will, dishonored His Scripture, opposed His saints, and arrogated to itself a place which God never gave it?

And how can any be the sustainers of such things, without names of blasphemy being written on them, the more in proportion to the energy and devotedness of their labor? Many a defender of Romanism and such like systems, must be regarded as marked with names of blasphemy — for falsehood cannot be thrust into the place of Truth, without Truth being rejected and reviled; and false assumption, and the consequent reviling of God’s Truth and people, is blasphemy in His sight. ” I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not ; but are the synagogue of Satan.”

But the exactness of prophetic statement must not be destroyed by applications, which, however valuable as applications, must never be substituted for direct and exact interpretation. Our first duty always is to inquire what the event which God is pleased to reveal, definitely and specifically is. It may be with godly and upright intention that many have sought to turn the edge of the testimony of (Revelation 17) sometimes on Rome, sometimes on national assumptions of Christianity; but the cause of Truth will not ultimately be served hereby, if in doing this they have unconsciously narrowed the testimony of God, and refused to see in this chapter the definite picture of that closing system to which Romanism and everything else that successfully sways the unregenerate heart will finally lead …  It cannot be doubted by any who seriously examine this chapter, that its fulfilment is altogether future.

The Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel and Revelation (B.W. Newton observations)

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Benjamin Wills Newton, in “Thoughts on the Apocalypse,” (Works of Benjamin Wills Newton, volume 14) provides some interesting thoughts concerning the Cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel and again in Revelation.

The cherubim, or “living creatures,” in Revelation 4 symbolize one aspect of the redeemed:  the power “which the Church is to exercise in the hour of its glory.”  Newton notes that the cherubim join in with the elders (Revelation 5:8-10) in saying “Thou hast redeemed US unto God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Note: some translations use the third person ‘people’ instead. Yet their golden bowls are also said to be the prayers of the saints.)  The cherubim, as with the 24 elders, also act as priests in intercessory prayers.  We may find some difficulty, perhaps, in attaching symbols so different as those of the elders and of the cherubim to the same body — the Church: but it is a difficulty necessarily consequent on the blessed truth, that the Church is “the fulness of him who filleth all in all.”

Why the Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel are with the wheels (But no wheels in the Revelation vision)

What can be more significant of the resistless course of almighty power? These terrible wheels, combining the movements of four, without losing the unity of one — each one advancing swift as the lightning, in its straightforward course, not to be resisted by any strength or checked by any impediment — each going upon its sides and yet none revolving — moving at once northward and south ward and eastward and westward, and yet being but as one wheel — nowhere absent but everywhere present in the perfectness of undivided action, afford the mysterious, but fitting, symbol of the omnipotent agency of the power of Him before whom “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?'”

In the Revelation, however, the cherubim are not, as in Ezekiel, acting in the earth. In Ezekiel, they were seen below the firmament of crystal; but in the Revelation they are withdrawn from the earth into the presence of the throne, within the sea of crystal; and this, because of Israel’s sin. “I will go and retire into my place, till they acknowledge their offence.”

But the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the deliverance of Elisha when multitudes of unseen hosts surrounded him, the destruction of Sennacherib, and many other like interventions of the omnipotence of God, are proofs of what this power was able to effect, and what it once did effect, on behalf of Israel and Jerusalem. But the vision of this power was shown to Ezekiel, only that he might bear witness to its withdrawal. He saw it gradually depart, until at last it was hidden in heaven; and accordingly, in the Revelation, we find it there; but no wheels were seen, only cherubim, and they in rest, save only toward God; for their agency in the earth has for the present ceased; nor will it be restored until the order of the millennium begins.

The beasts of prophecy are to be contrasted from the living creatures, as we consider the difference between the government by the Gentile powers and the future government of God:

When the beasts of Daniel were permitted to establish themselves in the earth, and to tread down Jerusalem, that holy and blessed agency represented by the living creatures of Ezekiel and the Revelation was withdrawn from the earth; and as soon as those beasts have fulfilled their course, the “living creatures” will return. One of the great objects of the Revelation is to contrast the condition of the earth whilst under the last great “beast,” with its condition when it shall be again brought under the heavenly agency of the cherubim.

Classic Premillennialism And Progressive Dispensationalism

October 29, 2013 1 comment

In my continuing study of different variations of premillennialism, I often come across the idea of neatly “categorizing” particular beliefs as being unique to “dispensational premillennialism” and completely different from the historic premillennial view.  For instance:  “historic premillennialism means Covenant Theology;” or specific beliefs (such as the view concerning Ezekiel’s Temple having literal animal sacrifices) are only held by dispensationalists.  Regarding the latter, I note that not even all “classic dispensationalists” believed in the future literal sacrifices, as evidenced by the “secondary explanation” in the Scofield Bible, and which H.A. Ironside held to; that issue is determined by the literal grammatical hermeneutic and not by a “system” of “dispensationalism.”  Also, not all historic premillennialists held to Covenant Theology – and certainly not to the spiritualizing/allegorizing hermeneutic commonly associated with non-premillennial Covenant/Reformed Theology.

As one person recently observed, historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have much in common.  Indeed, a recently stated broad definition, six essentials of “dispensationalism” actually represents the historic premillennial position and is not unique to “dispensationalism”:

1. Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical – grammatical hermeneutics.

2. Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church.  Dispensationalists acknowledge types in which certain OT persons, things, and institutions prefigure greater realities in the NT. But Israel is not a type that is swallowed up the NT church

3. Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel.  All dispensationalists reject a “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” in which the New Testament church is viewed as the replacement or fulfillment of the nation Israel as the people of God.

4. There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation.

5.  The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth.

6. There are multiple senses of “seed” or “descendants” of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

Note the following interesting example (by different types of premillennialists) regarding use of types and hermeneutics.  Progressive Dispensationalists, while generally keeping the pre-trib rapture (though de-emphasizing its importance), in another area attempt to move closer toward the Reformed/Covenantal approach:  reasoning that Christ is now presently reigning (in a spiritual sense) upon David’s throne – along with a future literal reign on David’s throne.  Yet classic premillennialists have always correctly understood this, seeing no need to change hermeneutics and “accommodate” the amillennial spiritualizing hermeneutic.  Note for instance J.C. Ryle (a covenantal premillennialist who believed in infant baptism), who yet had a very common-sense understanding and applied the example (type) of David in the wilderness on the run from King Saul, as a type of Christ in the present age:  He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and is not yet reigning upon that throne.

Also this, from classic premillennialist Benjamin Wills Newton (Thoughts on the Apocalypse) regarding the difference between the universal kingdom/throne of God and the future Davidic throne that Christ will rule upon in the future:

It is true indeed that Christ (for He is God, and one with the Father) is able to exercise, and does exercise, all the power of the throne on which He is now called to sit. It was His before He was incarnate, for ‘all things were created by Him,’ and ‘all things upheld by the word of His power.’ … He has all plenitude of power and almighty control; even as He himself said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” But the power of the throne of God which He thus exercises, is carefully to be distinguished from the authority which, as soon as the appointed hour comes, He will receive from that throne, as the minister thereof; and which He will exercise, sitting on His own throne and on the throne of His father David. …. The nature of the power which Christ will formally assume when brought before the Ancient of days (see Dan. 7), is that kingly government of nations which, when taken from Israel and the throne of David, because of their sin, God delegated to the king of Babylon and to the Empires that were appointed to succeed him, till the time for the forgiveness of Israel should come. This power, as described in Psalm 72, Christ inherits as the true Solomon, Heir to the throne of David. … As yet Christ is still seated on the throne of the Father, “waiting.”   (emphasis in the original)

Thoughts on Dispensationalism, the Rapture, and the One People of God

October 16, 2013 5 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often spoke of how we are always learning new things from the study of God’s word, and that even he (in later years of life) was still discovering and gaining new insights from the Bible.  How true this is, and the exhortation (1 Cor. 10:12) “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” and the importance of making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:5-10), which includes continual study in God’s word.  Lately, new study material for me has included the rapture timing and specifics in the book of Revelation (going through B.W. Newton’s commentary), and the following observations regarding variations of premillennialism and definitions of terms.

Classic dispensationalism made a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church, a difference not only in ethnic identities but one related to their past, present and future (see this message from S. Lewis Johnson): two New Covenants, as well as a division of the different New Testament books, that some were only for the Church and some only for Israel.  As Dr. Johnson observed in this message:

When we think of dispensationalism we should think of not simply a sharp distinction between Israel and the church but also a distinction between these two bodies so far as the past, present, and future is concerned.

Today’s moderate and Progressive Dispensationalism removes the great differences, correctly recognizing one New Covenant for both Jews and Gentiles, and the New Testament books written for all believers, agreeing with the “One People of God” idea.

In his review of Progressive Dispensationalist books, this writer noted (“Why I Can’t Call Myself A Dispensationalist”) that PD has improved on some ideas, but still keeps the pre-trib rapture: downplayed as not essential to the system, yet not really addressing it either.  However, and this is something that only recently occurred to me, the very nature of the pre-trib rapture at least implies some form of “two peoples of God,” with different futures within the plan of God.  One group, the church saints, get resurrected and raptured seven years before Christ’s return and spends those seven years in heaven.  The second group, Israel (of those living at the time of the Second Coming) remains to experience the 70th week of Daniel and the Great Tribulation; the Old Testament saints (non-Church) must also wait another seven years before their resurrection — resulting in two “first resurrections.”

S. Lewis Johnson further observed the difference between dispensationalism and the historic view, also in reference to the rapture timing:

Now the issue (the pre-trib rapture) is regarded as rather minor except by dispensationalists, who think that it is fundamental to their doctrine that our Lord be recognized as having two elect people, Israel and the church, and two different programs with two sets of promises, promises for Israel and for the church and two separate destinies historically.  So, there are some differences of opinion of course, but this is the historic view point: the ethnic future of Israel is a doctrine that is held by both pre-tribulationalists and post-tribulationalists.  That is, that Israel as a nation has a future.

Dr. Johnson’s comments were before the development of progressive dispensationalism, and what he refers to here is primarily Classic Dispensationalism.  Yet the point remains.  As noted above, Progressive Dispensationalism de-emphasizes but still keeps the pre-trib rapture, which in itself creates a distinction between the two groups regarding their futures (even though a lesser difference than in classic dispensationalism).  The historic view of premillennialism, that which is held by all premillennialists (regardless of rapture timing views), includes the ethnic future of Israel as a nation, and includes “futurist premillennialism” as evidenced by the writings of several authors (as for instance B.W. Newton, S. P. Tregelles, Nathaniel West).  Thus, the term “dispensational post-trib” is rather an oxymoron.

It should also be noted that when someone uses the term “historic premillennialist,” that simply means an identification with the classic premillennialists and the classic premillennial position: an ethnic future for Israel as a nation, including restoration to their land, and recognition of the unconditional biblical covenants of scripture.  Those who call themselves “historic premillennial” may or may not adhere to Covenant Theology (some such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle did), but the term is broad enough to include variations of other unrelated views held by individual premillennialists.

 

Thoughts on the Apocalypse: B.W. Newton Commentary on Revelation

October 3, 2013 2 comments

From the list of free online books by classic premillennialists, I’m now reading an interesting Revelation commentary: Thoughts on the Apocalypse (Google Play 3rd edition here), by Benjamin Wills Newton.

A contemporary and friend of Charles Spurgeon, Newton (1807-1899) was closely associated with Darby and the Plymouth Brethren movement for a while, then broke away over differences in church practice and doctrine, from which came the 1848 split of the brethren movement into the Open Brethren (including B.W. Newton and George Muller) and the Exclusive Brethren (Darby).  The Spurgeon archive includes references from Spurgeon’s Sword & Trowel to the Plymouth Brethren, as here  and here.

Newton was a voluminous writer (see H.A. Ironside’s description of Newton), the author of many works related to prophecy, including this in-depth commentary on the book of Revelation.  What I’ve read so far (through Revelation 6) includes good observations regarding the Church –and its original intended greatness as symbolized in Revelation 1 followed by the sad reality especially in reference to Constantine – as well as great appreciation for Israel and the apostle John as one from a Jewish background who recognized the judicial darkness that unbelieving Israel was by this time experiencing:

John had the feelings and sympathies of one who had learned to contemplate what was passing among men in the light of God and of His Truth. … There is also a philanthropy which is according to God and guided by His word ; and this John possessed. He had not ceased to feel as a man, and as an Israelite, because he had become a Christian. He was not insensible either to the travail of creation “groaning in the bondage of corruption,” or to the fallen condition of Israel over which Daniel, and a greater than Daniel, had wept. He knew that darkness had been judicially sent upon their hearts, and that until that was removed, the long-promised morning of joy — ” the morning without clouds ” — could not arise either on them or on the nations. He understood how the destinies of the earth were bound up with those of Israel, and that evil would continue to mark the course of human things, until Israel should “convert and be healed.”

Newton’s approach to the book of Revelation is clearly futurist (and premillennial) — noting times past, when Christians sought to find “fulfillment” in the prophecies occurring throughout church history, as incorrect.  Newton further explains the visions in Revelation 6 through 18 as not chronological from one chapter to the next but as separate visions all describing the same time period, each revealing a part of what will happen during that time period but never reaching the end until Revelation 19.  Following the precedent of Old Testament prophecies (and Newton shows good knowledge of the Old Testament prophets), Newton often sees a vision as first telling the good news of the end before going into the events previous to that.  Thus, his interpretation of the first seal in Revelation 6 is quite different from what I’ve read from more recent authors:  that the person going forth to conquer and conquering must be the Lord Jesus Christ, since no other can truly conquer; thus, he reasons, the first seal is showing the great and glorious end when Christ triumphs, AFTER the events of judgment given in the following seals.  I’m not ready yet to agree with him on the specific definition of the 1st seal, though in the overall prophetic picture that particular item is not an essential to futurist premillennialism — it does not change our understanding of what antichrist will do during the time following the 1st seal.  I also wonder here if Newton’s interpretation reflects the “standard” understanding of that time; perhaps our 21st century prevailing idea (that the 1st seal is AntiChrist) was suggested in the 150 years since Newton’s time.

In agreement with the text and other commentary I’ve read as from today’s pre-wrath authors, the sixth seal is immediately before Christ returns, as Newton observes here:

We behold the signs which immediately precede the manifestation of the Lord in glory. The Lord Jesus had before said, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth,   distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” Such are the signs which are seen in the vision here. Men recognize them and tremble. They say to the mountains and rocks, ” Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb ; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Thus far this vision leads us: but no more is revealed. It is not the intention of this part of the Revelation to describe the manifestation of the Lord in glory, or to speak of the events which follow that manifestation.

Newton’s Revelation commentary is beneficial, well written and in-depth in consideration of Revelation and all of God’s word.  I look forward to further reading in this book as well as many more of Benjamin Wills Newton’s books.