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Nathaniel West on Postmillennialism’s Creative History

October 21, 2014 1 comment

An idea which really did not take hold until the early 1700s, which in earlier years was referred to as “Whitbyism” for its originator, post-millennialism – a doctrine of peace-time that departed for awhile after World War I — is again returning to favor among at least some people. The current version includes a new idea of “redeeming culture” by reconstruction and revision of history, as demonstrated in Fred Butler’s recent blog posts; see “Christmas in the hands of reconstructionists.”  It seems also that the 21st century postmillennialists do not know the history of their doctrine and all the earlier ideas suggested to “date” the pre-Second-Coming millennium and/or explain how we are now in that millennium.

Historic premillennialist Nathaniel West, writing at the close of the 19th century, gave sharp and strong critique to the idea itself, both in its various forms and its false hermeneutics. West’s “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” is a very in-depth work, not for the casual reader, with many chapters and details regarding all of scripture and the thousand year kingdom. The first part of the full “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ,” “The Thousand Years in Both Testaments,” is available in electronic format here, but much of the print book is unfortunately not available in e-book format. One of these later chapters includes an interesting section detailing why the 1000 years mentioned in scripture are not merely symbolic, but are a true measure of real and historic time still future. In West’s day (1899, 15 years before World War I began), postmillennialism was in vogue, and so West primarily interacted with that, as well as the overall idea of the millennium somehow existing during history BEFORE Christ’s return.

Past “Dating” Attempts of this Millennium, and a few excerpts from West’s commentary:

  • It Began At The First Advent, and Represents the Whole Church Age

This was the view of Augustine, Euseubius, Jerome and the State-Church after the martyr age, continuing into the Medieval Church.

The absurdity of this view is seen in that it makes the Millennial reign on earth, which begins with our Lord’s return, to be that of His Sojourn in Heaven, a Millennium during which the bodies of God’s saints are still under the empire of death, and the “Times of the Gentiles” are still running on; times of affliction and woe, and God-opposed world-power! … The Apostasy is still deepening, the tares yet ripening among the wheat. Antichrist is still undestroyed, the Nations, as Nations, are still raging, the whole tide of church-corruption, a false philosophy, false science, swelling to its height; a millennium of boundless ambition, avarice, and lust of military conquest in the name of religion and missions … a millennium begun by devoting the Apostles to the axe, Christians to the lions and the flame, and sending John to Patmos, as a prisoner for the truth and testimony of Jesus, to write his great Apocalypse!

  • It Began With Constantine, A.D. 312

It is not necessary to dwell on the fact that post millennialism dates the 1000 years from Pentecost, from the Destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70, and from the Death of each individual believer! … Plainly, it was too much to be long believed, that 300 years of bloody persecution and pagan torture of God’s saints should belong to the Millennial age of righteousness and peace, and “war no more.” Accordingly, the commencing date, the a quo, of the 1000 years, was advanced 300 years along the line of history, so excluding the martyr period. … It is essentially the Augustinian view, and amenable to the same objection.

  • It Started with Charlemagne, A.D. 800 (the invention of Hengstenberg)

The Beast, or Antichrist, is not the Pope, but God-opposed Heathenism and Barbarism, not to be destroyed under judgment, at the personal appearing of Christ, but gradually converted and peacefully overthrown by the preaching of the gospel. … The 1000 years, therefore, began Christmas, A.D. 800, when Pope Leo III imposed the crown on the head of Charlemagne as the true successor of the Christian Caesars, and revived the “Holy Roman Empire.” That was considered a great piece of work in those days, although it required the lapse of the whole millennial age before Hengstenberg rose to let the world know how great it was! The Nations had never dreamed that Satan was chained! The Turk was not aware of it!.. But nevertheless, the Devil was bound, Christmas A.D. 800, and remained in Pit until A.D. 1789, when loosed from his chain, he came forth and began his old arts in the French Revolution, and the Wars that followed. … modifying this view, Keil, the last great representative of Hengstenberg, goes back to the Constantine date, and holds that “so long as the State-Religion exists, the 1000 years exist,” which, of course, rules out the United States, where Church and State are independent, from all share in the glories of the Millennial age!

  •  “Future Pre-Advent Millennialism” – the common postmillennial view of our day, that “the 1000 years date from somewhere, indefinitely,–in the future, i.e., from some unknown point 1000 years next preceding the Second Advent … which may be either, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 365,000, according to the uncertainties, or necessities, of the case. This one shows us future pre-advent millennialism.” From the several pages of commentary regarding this idea, a few excerpts.

 Enormous in pretention, as unfathomable in the mystery of its way, it yet, while decking itself with the garments of a world-harlotry, proposes to itself a plan and a purpose which, already, the mouth of God has declared to be false. All the social and moral plague-spots, oppressions, and crimes, national, and international, which 1800 years of advancing Christian endeavor have been powerless to avert, and with all its revivals powerless to extirpate, our “Civilization”; and all the darkness and pollution of the degenerate human heart, ever the same from generation to generation in the birth of every individual, the millions multiplying by an increase that outstrips even the progress of Christianity; and all the vice embedded in our “culture;” and all the wickedness of Heathendom, less wicked than Christendom; it proposes to remove by “a continuous process” of the same Christian and Church development which for 1800 years has shown itself utterly incompetent to achieve the task.

. . .

Alas! It is a deep falsehood; a beguiling “lie.” It is that “finer form of Chiliasm” which lauds the “Star-Spangled Banner, long may it wave!” and has taken possession, bodily, of what it calls our “American Christianity,” so unlike the Apostolic sort! It is the ordinary Millennialism of the spiritualizers, and of the pulpit, press, and platform, the millennialism ventilated in Church-Courts, Conventions, General Assemblies, Alliances and Associations, and framed in special sermons, addresses, reports, and resolutions, published for the health of the soul. Discussion of it, there is hardly any, for “prudential reasons.” It is that “fine Chiliasm,” false as fine, which, in common with the “coarse,” or “Jewish,” holds to a Millennium *before* the Advent and the Resurrection of the just; … a millennium sprung from Origen, a Universalist, perpetuated by Rome all Arminian, fathered by Whitby, a Socinian, and adopted by many godly and scholarly Protestants, who, mistaking error for exegesis, spiritualize all the prophecies concerning Israel, or end them in Maccabean, or early Roman times; a millennium without Christ to introduce it by judgment and deliverance; a millennium of saints in the flesh, and of the holy still in the grave … Not a solitary text of scripture is produced in its support, though challenged a hundred times, except “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” It rests on a mistaken view of the purpose of God, and of the promise of the Spirit, violates every principle of exegesis, depends for its success upon the ignorance of its hearers, and the daring of its preachers, and is one of the chief stimuli in mass-meetings for prayer, where the leader, watch in one hand, gavel in the other, times the action of God’s Spirit, calling for petitions “two minutes prompt,” “short and to the point,” “next meeting this evening seven sharp!”

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.

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

The Chiliasts (early premillennialists) and John Bunyan

July 17, 2014 11 comments

In my ongoing interests in premillennialism and church history, lately I have been looking more closely at the earlier premillennialists (pre-19th century), and particularly John Bunyan.  While searching on the Internet a few weeks ago, in reference to the question of “reformed Baptists” and historic premillennialism, I came across a recent article that explain a little of the history of the 1689 London Baptist confession and connection to premillennialism.  The following paragraph especially caught my interest:

Likewise, Nathaniel West tells us that “the English Chiliasts issued a public protest against both the conduct and principles of the revolutionary sect, a protest in which all true pre-millennarians were represented. (Neal’s Puritans, II. 221.) Eleven years after the Assembly adjourned, the English Baptists presented their pre-millennarian confession to Charles II., A.D. 1660, John Bunyan’s name among the number, declaring, ‘We believe that Christ, at His Second Coming, will not only raise the dead, and judge and restore the world, but also take to Himself His Kingdom, which will be a universal Kingdom and that, in this Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ will be the alone visible, Supreme, Lord and King of the whole earth.’ (Crosby’s History of the Baptists).

Prior to this, my primary knowledge of John Bunyan was his famous allegory, “Pilgrims Progress,” and related allegorical fiction, and a general impression that he did not write anything with specific reference to eschatology. Then I started looking at overall Puritan literature, including the John Bunyan volumes available at Bunyan Ministries, including Bunyan’s unfinished commentary on Genesis, which covered the first 10 chapters.  Recognizing that this was nearly two centuries before the 19th century controversy over evolution and the age of the Earth, still I was curious to find out what, if anything, John Bunyan had to say regarding the Earth’s age, in his writings about the early Genesis chapters.

Indeed, we won’t find anything in Bunyan’s writings in reference to the 19th century teaching of evolution or long, vast ages of earth history. But it was exciting and interesting to find this Puritan, hundreds of years before the more developed premillennial writings of the 19th century Benjamin Wills Newton and Nathaniel West variety, affirm the basics of premillennialism – and to specifically relate it to the doctrine of creation:

Which sabbath, as I conceive, will be the seventh thousand of years, which are to follow immediately after the world hath stood six thousand first: for as God was six days in the works of creation, and rested the seventh; so in six thousand years he will perfect his works and providences that concern this world. As also he will finish the toil and travel of his saints, with the burden of the beasts, and the curse of the ground; and bring all into rest for a thousand years.

Bunyan further understood the connection between the early Earth, the pre-flood era, and what is promised in the future millennial era, as in his comments on Genesis 5:

These long-lived men therefore shew us the glory that the church shall have in the latter day, even in the seventh thousand years of the world, that sabbath when Christ shall set up his kingdom on earth, according to that which is written, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:1-4). They:—Who? The church of God, according also as it was with Adam. Therefore they are said by John to be holy, as well as blessed: “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” (v 6). In all which time the wicked in the world shall forbear to persecute, as did also the brood of wicked Cain in the days of Adam, Seth, &c. Hence therefore we find in the first place the dragon chained for these thousand years.

Bunyan’s view was quite similar to that of the early church, including the “millennial week” idea of a day as a thousand years, thus six thousand years of history for the six days of creation, followed by the “seventh day” as the 1000 year millennial kingdom. “Historic premillennialism” as expressed in the last 200 years, carries forward many features of early premillennialism, except the millennial week. For a modern Bible teacher who holds to chiliasm, see these articles from Tim Warner (note: he is also rather anti-Calvinist, and not in the usual tradition of the 19th century Calvinist Premillennialists), the only one I know of who holds to chiliasm in modern times:

Bunyan also taught according to the literal, non-spiritualizing hermeneutic, as seen in his reference to Zechariah 14:4, in this work addressing the error of the spiritualizing Quakers:

And his feet shall stand in that day [the day of his second coming] upon the Mount of Olives’ (Zech 14:4). Where is that? Not within thee, but that which is without Jerusalem, before it on the east side.

Regarding premillennialism in church history, the following online works: