Archive

Posts Tagged ‘historic premillennialism’

Reformed Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, and Israel

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

 

A recent article, What is a Reformed Baptist, makes some good points as to the defining characteristics of Reformed Baptists, as distinguished from Reformed non-Baptists on the one hand, and non-Reformed (Calvinist) Baptists on the other hand.  Five distinctives are noted:  the regulative principle of worship, Baptist Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Law of God, and Confessionalism.  Overall, I agree with it and find it a helpful article.

Yet one point (under the second heading of Covenant Theology) provides an example of modern-day overreaction against one error (traditional dispensationalism), to the point that would negate the actual beliefs of at least some (pre-20th century) 1689 Baptists.  From the article:

According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7).  …

Baptists today who adhere to dispensationalism believe that the physical offspring of Abraham are the rightful recipients of the promises of God to Abraham’s seed. But they have departed from their historic Baptist roots and from the hermeneutical vision of the organic unity of the Bible cast by their forefathers. Baptist theologian James Leo Garret correctly notes that dispensationalism is an “incursion” into Baptist theology, which only emerged in the last one hundred fifty years or so.

Dispensationalism is indeed an “incursion” (introduced in the mid-19th century, as even its early teachers acknowledged) but that is a different issue from the question regarding any future purpose for physical, national Israel.  As I’ve noted a few times in previous posts, the doctrine of a future restoration of ethnic, national Israel to their land, to have a significant role as a nation during the future millennial era, is not limited to dispensationalism, nor a distinctive unique to dispensationalism.  The 19th century covenantal premillennialists, who predated dispensationalism (certainly before it was well-known and had gained popularity), taught the same idea which today is often dismissed out of hand (as being dispensationalism) – as for example, Andrew Bonar’s remarks in the introduction to his 1846 Commentary on Leviticus.

True, some of the covenantal premillennialists were from the paedo-Baptist form of covenant theology – notably, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, and J.C. Ryle.  But what about Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist who affirmed and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession at his church?  Several of his sermons specifically addressed the future state of Israel, and his sermon introductions (on prophetic texts that pertain to Israel’s future) included such comments – his brief exposition of the primary meaning of the text, before taking up his own textual-style approach in a different direction regarding the words of a text.

Regarding the specific view of “Abraham’s seed” and its meaning, a search through the Spurgeon sermon archives (at Spurgeon Gems) brings forth several sermons where Spurgeon addressed this.  Consider the following selection of sermons:

The following are a few excerpts which explain Spurgeon’s view of Abraham’s seed – a “both/and” view that includes believers in our age as well as a future group of literal Israel.

From #1369:

Now, our Lord Jesus has come to proclaim a period of jubilee to the true seed of Israel. The seed of Abraham now are not the seed according to the law, but those who are born after the promise. There are privileges reserved for Israel after the flesh, which they will yet receive in the day when they shall acknowledge Christ to be the Messiah, but every great blessing which was promised to Abraham’s seed after the flesh is now virtually promised to Israel after the Spirit, to those who by faith are the children of believing Abraham.

From #1962:

More than that, the Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favoring his posterity. That is what our first text tells us. The Lord styled Israel, even rebellious Israel “The seed of Abraham My friend.” You know how David sought out the seed of Jonathan, and did them good for Jonathan’s sake, even so does the Lord love believers who are the seed of believing Abraham, and He still seeks out the children of Abraham His friend to do them good. In the latter days He shall save the literal Israel; the natural branches of the olive, which for a while have been broken off, shall be grafted in again. God has not forgotten His friendship to their father Abraham, and therefore He will return in love to Abraham’s seed, and again be their God.

Thus, a 1689 confessional, baptist covenant theology view does not necessitate a removal of one group (ethnic Israel).  Nothing here requires an “either/or” approach that removes and precludes a national future for Israel, as demonstrated in the “both/and” approach taken by Spurgeon (and other covenantal premillennialists).

Advertisements

Classic Premillennialism: Andrew Bonar’s “Redemption Drawing Nigh”

April 29, 2015 10 comments
Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

In my ongoing study of historic premillennialism, here is another classic premillennial work from one of the covenantal premillennialists, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892, youngest brother of Horatius Bonar) – perhaps best known today for his biography of his friend and fellow Scotsman, Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Redemption Drawing Nigh, A Defense of the Premillennial Advent was published in 1847. Its availability today is limited: through Google Play, which also has a PDF downloadable file. However, the PDF file is not of the OCR/text type (only image). No kindle book files exist, nor any print used copies from Amazon or other sites. Thankfully, the reading through Google Play is of good quality, and brings out the now-forgotten treasures from Andrew Bonar.

Similar to other works from the 19th century on this topic (as for instance J.C. Ryle), Bonar begins with consideration of the overall question of the Second Coming: why we should be interested in it, and what benefits it brings to the growing Christian. He bolsters his case with quotes from a then-contemporary antimillenarian scholar who likewise agreed regarding the importance of considering Christ’s Second Advent. Bonar also shows his mastery of scripture, with a chapter citing many oft-ignored references to the Second Coming (general references not specific to the millennial era), with several interesting references from the Old Testament –the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, and even from the Song of Solomon (seen typologically as about Christ, the traditional/historic view of that book).

Later chapters deal more in-depth with topics still relevant today, including great quotes about hermeneutics and affirming the literal hermeneutic—and what that hermeneutic actually means.  So far the book is interesting, with strong emphasis on the importance of this doctrine (premillennialism and the Second Coming generally), references to the future of Israel, and insights on the Christian life and holiness.

A few excerpts to share:

 Holiness is “living soberly,” or occupying the position which a calm consideration of our gifts shows us to be fitted for; “righteously,” regarding our neighbor’s rights, loving him as ourselves; “godly,” regarding God’s demands, living in fellowship with Him. But even this, done under the motive of “grace,” is not all. Along with all this, a truly holy man sits loose to the world and longs for glory. … Uneasy at every remaining imperfection, troubled by every unattained degree of grace, vexed at a low state of feeling, the man who walks on the highway of holiness is ever looking forward into the bosom of the future— beyond even death, which only brings partial deliverance—to “that blessed hope.” This unceasing regard to the Lord’s Coming is surely one scriptural ingredient in all real holiness.

 

It is not enough that the lesson itself is Divine, we must also have a Divine instructor; not only a sharp sword, but an Almighty hand to wield it. It is so with respect to this doctrine of the Lord’s Coming. It may be learnt by carnal men as any other piece of knowledge; and it may be received and assented to by spiritual men among the other articles of their creed. But there is a spiritual reception of it which is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s teaching. As in conversion we need resurrection-power—the same power that raised up Jesus—to remove the barriers in our soul that hid a full salvation from our view; so ever after, when any new truth of a spiritual nature is to be taught us, it seems declared to us (Phil. 3: 15) that we need the very same power to remove the scale that blinded us to it.

and, on the topic of hermeneutics, the primary meaning and its application to us:

Let the man not be lazy and easy-minded in the things of God. Let him not say, “O it will do well to let the Assyrian stand as an Algebraic sign for ‘our spiritual enemy.’” Let him rather take the words literally, as referring to some national Jewish event yet future; and then let him say, “But he who is able to be Israel’s peace in that day, may well be mine now!”

Classic Premillennial Views: Ezekiel’s Temple (Nathaniel West)

December 2, 2014 1 comment

Occasionally the question comes up, what does historic premillennialism believe regarding Ezekiel’s Temple and the Sacrifices? It must first be noted that this is really a secondary issue, not an essential of any form of premillennialism – and further, that even dispensationalists have differing views. H.A. Ironside and a few others have taken the Scofield Bible’s “secondary” explanation of a literal temple with symbolic language for the sacrifices.  Another good, basic reference is an article regarding Charles Spurgeon’s eschatology, which notes Spurgeon’s speculation regarding the future millennial temple:

  1. During the millennial kingdom there may be a temple or “Christian Structure” built on the Temple Mount for worship of God.
  2. During the millennium there may be some forms of Old Testament ceremonial adherence (Sabbaths, News Moon, etc.), but that those forms will be modified to be appropriate for the church.

Nathaniel West’s classic work “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” (1899) supplemental material includes a full essay, “The 1000 years in Ezekiel,” on the question of where Ezekiel 40-48 fit within the premillennial timeline. After establishing that this temple exists during the 1000 year intermediate state — and not any time in the past, and also not as something purely idealistic (with no reference to any time, and not during the Eternal State – Nathaniel West shares some interesting points regarding the idea of the temple itself as well as its “bloody sacrifices,” including how the text can be understood to follow the literal hermeneutic and as typical language, in a way that does not violate the principle of literal language yet not contradicting other biblical teachings that conflict with “bloody sacrifices.”

Following are some excerpts from this material, which is not available online, but only in existing used print copies.  (Note: emphasis is in the original text.)

It is enough, for our present purpose, to state where we fully believe these Chapters belong, and their connection with the “first resurrection,” even as (apostle) John has briefly stated the connection of the 1000 years, in the same way. …

The locus of the whole scene of the New Israel, in their New Land, redistributed and transfigured, their New Temple, New City, and New Cult, is between the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment at the end of Ezekiel’s “Many Days,” 38:8, Isaiah’s “Multitude of Days” Isaiah 24:22, Hosea’s “Third Day” 6:2, and John’s “1000 years,” 20:1-7. That is the region where they belong. That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile-point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by “the hand of God” to comfort the exiles of Gola!” (noted in the footnote, the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 was written in October 572 B.C.)

 

It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and bleeds the Restoration, the non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it. … And, as all the rest speak, so does he, in Old Testament terms, and paints in Old Testament colors, yet not without the most startling modifications of the Mosaic worship;–not legislating the “rudiments of the Pentateuchal priest-code,” but amending, abolishing, and adding to it, changing it,–a sign of fading, not advancing, Mosaism.

One thing we know, beyond dispute, viz., that “Israel” of the Millennial Age is a converted people, “serving God in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” How much of Ezekiel’s typical picture will fade in the fulfillment, how much brighten to intenser glory, we may not decide. Nor does this impinge on the doctrine of “exact accomplishment.” It neither asserts nor denies. It leaves to the future, problems the future only can solve. It refuses to reconcile apparent contradictions by the adoption of a principle of interpretation which, if logically carried out, would end in the denial of Christianity itself. It waits. The early Jewish Christians adhered to their Jewish rites long after their conversion on the day of Pentecost. They worshiped still in the Temple. At any rate, the future will bring the solution. … We can agree and with Kahle, feel sure, that “it is not for us to determine how much of these closing predictions of Ezekiel will be literally fulfilled, how much not, when Israel has turned to the Lord with all their heart.” We may not go to the length of Baumgarten and Hess who, perhaps, press the literal, in some respect, to the quick, but we may follow men of scholarship and greatness in the knowledge of God’s word, like Crusius, Delitzch, Nagelsbach, Hofmann, Neumann, and agree, even with Kuenen and Graf, in this, that “it is vain, either to idealize, or seek to spiritualize, the many of minute details of these Chapters.”

Further:

The relations described are too perfect to allow us to see in this picture a representation, beforehand, of the restored Church of Zerubbabel and Joshua, of Ezra and Nehemiah, such as was afterward related historically. Or, is it the consummated Jerusalem, the Eternal City of God? For this again, the relations are too limited, too specifically Jewish. And yet there are elements, even in the oracles of Ezekiel, that do not find expression in the architectural plan framed after the Mosaic pattern. The Temple is seen standing on a high mountain. This feature, and the Temple-River swelling as it goes, show that the whole is more than a new architectonic for the building of God’s house, or a new revision of the Law, or the Restoration of the State. It is a prophetic vision in which the Church of God and the Temple, are presented in glorified form. And yet the detailed descriptions are of such a kind, the walls, the chambers, and the doors, that they yield a real architectonic of which a plan may be drawn, complete as that of the temple of Herod or Solomon. The Mosaic cultus here, is typical prophecy.

and

Attempts have been made to crane up this picture, and its separate features, by artificial means, to the height of the New Testament revelation, by putting a spiritual meaning into everything, or an outward fulfilment has been claimed by which even the bloody sacrifices must be logically ascribed to converted Israel. Really neither the one nor the other view accords with New Testament teaching.

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!”

Terms and Distinctions: Reformed/Covenant Theology, NCT, and Covenantal Premillennialism

September 16, 2014 7 comments

Among some Christian circles today, especially Calvinists and dispensationalists, a more superficial understanding of theology persists, and the tendency to think that:

  • anyone who is not “dispensational” adheres to covenant theology
  • anyone who holds to amillennialism believes Covenant theology, and vice versa, AND
  • covenant theology equals “church replacement theology” (amillennial/preterist ideas)

Accordingly, some will use the terms “Calvinist” and “Reformed” interchangeably, though in discussion it becomes clear that what is actually meant is Calvinist soteriology aka the “doctrines of grace.” Yet as I’ve recently come to understand more clearly, 5-point baptistic Calvinism, as popularly seen in the “Sovereign Grace” movement characterized by smaller, non-denominational churches with informal affiliation — and often associated with amillennial or postmillennial eschatology — is but one component of what is included within overall “Reformed/Covenant  Theology.”   Covenant Theology aka Reformed Theology includes not only Calvinist soteriology, but also understanding and adherence to the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions. The confessions include the teaching of the theological covenants (covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption), and understanding of the Old Testament law as having three parts (moral, civil, ceremonial) and a “third use” of the law (the moral law, the ten commandments), as a guide in sanctification (not salvation) for the believer.

Here I observe that some churches that affirm the “Doctrines of Grace” aka Calvinism and reference the term “sovereign grace,” may also hold to covenant theology.  But more often they actually hold to a “dispensational” understanding of the law, particularly with NCT, New Covenant Theology (which has developed within the last 30 years, about as old as progressive dispensationalism, both of which are more recent than classic or even revised dispensationalism). To add to the name confusion, some churches with “Reformed Baptist” in their name actually teach NCT instead of Reformed Baptist theology. The difference shows up while visiting church websites, that some reformed churches will specifically state their adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (or another of the 17th century confessions, such as the 1644 Baptist one or, for paedo-baptists, the Westminster Confession); some of these will state qualified agreement “generally” or “in large part” while others state full agreement; whereas NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches usually will not explicitly mention their “NCT” belief (which is not one single, confessional belief and likely includes several variations).  With specific churches (as true for all doctrinal views) one must look carefully at the stated versus actual beliefs; in recent church-site searching I came across a few church websites stating agreement with the 1689 London Baptist confession but with sermon content of traditional dispensationalism.  Further: though NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches are also predominantly amillennial/ postmillennial, a few are historic premillennial (for instance Fred Zaspel and a few others), and a few that self-describe as “Sovereign Grace” are of the Calvinist-Dispensational variety.

Another important point regarding Covenant Theology and millennial views: though many who hold to “Covenant Theology” also are amillennial or postmillennial – with variations among themselves on the futurist-idealist-preterist line, CT itself does not at all require an anti-premillennial view, or even an anti-future Israel view.  Though the true history has been largely forgotten by many of today’s CT advocates… ironically enough, as noted in Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and in my recent “Premillennialism in Church History” series, many if not most of the Westminster Divines were in fact premillennial: a truth that returned soon after the Reformation and held sway throughout the early Protestant years.  Many great theologians of the CT tradition, down through the 18th and 19th centuries, were premillennial, and many of these also affirmed a literal future for regathered ethnic, national Israel.

Covenant theologians (such as Horatius Bonar, also J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon) can well articulate BOTH the tenets of covenant theology and the reformed view of the law (see Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness, especially chapter 6), AND affirm historic/classic premillennialism, including future restoration of ethnic, national Israel.

Here I note an example of modern-day CT writing which conflates teaching on the Reformed/Covenantal view of the Law, with eschatology and Israel, in this passing statement near the end of this otherwise helpful article about the third use of the law; but such is the author’s own confusion. The article’s statement – This is one eternally important reason why Israel received the Law in the Mosaic Covenant, with the associated typological promise of blessing and cursing. Christ, the antitype of Israel, takes the antitypical curse for the Covenant people and fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law to give them the antitypical (eternal) blessings by faith in Him. – actually has nothing to do with covenant theology itself, and only shows the author’s own confusion and mixing of unrelated issues with excessive spiritualizing. Perhaps, too, this statement could be taken as an illustration or analogy, yet the primary truth and primary meaning (of literal Israel still experiencing literal curses in this age, to be followed by literal blessings in the future) still remains.

To conclude, a selection from Covenant premillennialist Horatius Bonar:

It seems often taken for granted that those who assert the literal interpretation of the blessings promised to Israel, thereby exclude the spiritual. They do not. They assert the literal blessing, because they believe that God has promised it; but they maintain the superiority and necessity of the spiritual as firmly as do the others. They believe that Israel will be converted, and they rejoice in this as the glorious issue towards which the prophets point. But they believe more; they believe not only that they will be converted, but they will be restored to their own land. But does their literal restoration take from them one single spiritual blessing? Or does it prevent the Gentile nations from enjoying one of those innumerable blessings which are given to them for an inheritance?

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.

Thoughts on Theological Labels: “Futurist Premillennialism”

March 21, 2014 4 comments

For today, just some thoughts concerning the particular doctrinal ideas often associated with larger “doctrinal labels.”  A currently popular term is “futurist premillennialism,” often considered synonymous with “dispensationalism”:  a definition of premillennialism with several defining characteristics as “essentials of dispensationalism.”  This term and definition have especially gained popularity (and perhaps were developed/created) through the work of scholars associated with a well-known seminary that teaches dispensationalism.  Though likely it was not intended, it appears that at least some people now confuse terms, such that “futurist premillennialism” (to them) means dispensationalism — as though to suggest that only the dispensational form of premillennialism is futurist in its view including recognition of a future for national, ethnic Israel.   Such use of “futurist premillennial” often comes up in online group discussions, or in online articles such as this recent post, which notes in passing “the abundance of scholarship from notable Calvinists who ascribe to futuristic premillennialism (dispensationalism).”

But consider the actual words “futurist” and “premillennial.”  Technically, futurist refers to the belief that the end times events especially as described in Revelation are to occur in the future  (see this post about millennial views and future/present/past), a concept not limited to premillennialism (there are at least a few amillennial futurists, though certainly more common for premillennialism). Also, premillennialism itself encompasses the basic ideas of a plain language “literal” hermeneutic, a future restoration of Israel as a nation, and a future literal thousand year period of time during which Christ reigns upon the Earth over the nations populated with mortal (non-glorified) peoples.

So I maintain that “futurist premillennialism” as such is not really synonymous with dispensationalism, nor limited to or exclusive to dispensationalism, but should be understood to encompass overall classic/historic premillennialism.  Though what often passes today for “historic premillennialism” is the relatively recent development of (George Ladd) one-text premillennialism, including (as for instance with author James Hamilton) a historicist approach to Revelation, many premillennialists – in the age before dispensationalism was introduced and became popular – took a clearly literal, futurist view of eschatology.  The early church fathers recognized a future literal 3 1/2 year period of Great Tribulation after which Christ would return (see the quotes in this post, for instance).  Though Protestant premillennialism began with the historicist view common to the Reformers’ amillennial historicism, the 19th century — and notably, this was before dispensationalism was popularized (Darby’s teaching, to the later Scofield Bible) — brought several premillennialists who were also futurist in their understanding regarding Daniel’s 70th week and the Great Tribulation events.  Recommended works from earlier, pre-dispensational and futurist premillennialism include  Benjamin Wills Newton’s The Antichrist Future (1859).

Despite the seeming predominance of the George Ladd view on the one hand, and the popularity of “Calvinist Dispensationalism” on the other, the classic, futurist premillennial view has its proponents today, as for instance the teachers at the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (more details in this post), and the (past as well as present-day) writers of online articles at Providence Baptist Ministries. The historic premillennialist speakers at the SGAT monthly meetings,  and their quarterly magazine, feature the same topics supposedly unique to dispensationalism, as for instance: the rebuilding of a literal Babylon, the future of Israel and the nations and the millennium; and literal hermeneutics in response to the problems with amillennialism.  Other resources include the teaching at this website, and a Facebook discussion group for classic premillennialists, which includes present-day non-Laddian style historic premillennial pastors and laypeople.  Consider also the many believers (as evidenced by many online discussion groups) from non-Calvinist/non-Reformed background; these generally come from a baptist Arminian Dispensational background, yet now identify as historic premillennial (not as dispensational) and are familiar with the historic premillennial writers from the early church as well as 19th century premillennialists: clearly futurist with respect to the Great Tribulation, agreeing with the literal (plain language) hermeneutic, the future restoration of Israel, and the role of Israel and the nations during the 1000 year kingdom.

So let’s help spread the word, that dispensational premillennialism is not the only form of premillennialism that is futurist, adheres to a literal plain language hermeneutic, and sees a future restoration of Israel (the basic tenets of supposed “futurist premillennialism aka dispensationalism”).