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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 in Church History: Part VI, the Return to Futurism

August 15, 2014 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2014 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua Spaulding (1796):

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

 

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

August 6, 2014 2 comments

Continuing in this series through the history of premillennialism, we now come to the 17th century and the Westminster Assembly. Nathaniel West in his essay, “History of the Premillennial Doctrine,” detailed this time period and event, affirming several important points:

  • The Westminster Assembly included a large number of chiliasts, including the chairman himself.
  • The wording of the Westminster confession in no way invalidates premillennialism, and its silence concerning the specifics of premillennialism no more proves that the 1,000 years are not a measure of time, or that the Pre-Millennial Advent is not true, than does the silence of Daniel and Paul, in their eschatology, prove that the later and more developed eschatology given by Christ Himself to John, is contradictory of the earlier and less developed, and on that account uninspired. The silence and the expression are both harmonized by the “apotelesmatic” character of both prophecy and symbolism.
  • The eschatology of the Westminster confession includes references to ideas which adhere to a non-allegorical interpretation (at least so far as basic sequence and ideas including the 1000 years being future)

The chiliasts among the Westminster divines: Dr. Twisse, the Prolocutor, described as an ardent disciple of Mede – the earliest well-known chiliast in the Protestant era. Also the following names: Marshall, Palmer, Caryl, Langley and Gataker, Greenhill and Burroughs (“the morning and evening stars of Stepney”), Goodwin, Ash, Bridge, Nye, Selden and Ainsworth, and Peter Sterry. The statements from the anti-chiliasts well attest to this fact, and that the chiliasts in the assembly were sound, orthodox men and not representing the false chiliasm. West includes quotes from several here, including Baillie: “Most of the chief divines here,” he murmured, “not only Independents, but others, as Twisse, Marshall, Palmer, and many more, are express Chiliasts.” (Letters, No. 117, Vol. II, p. 313) Vitringa says: “Very many erudite men, far removed from a carnal Chiliasm,—a carnali Chiliasmo alienos—gave suffrage to this view.” Principal Cunningham, of Scotland, has affirmed that they who entertained it were “of the soundest among the Westminster divines.”

A few further points from Nathaniel West, related to the Westminster Confession’s wording:

As in the earlier Scriptures, however, so here in these Standards, the “Last things” are crowded together in one picture, of which the Parousia is the centre, and not distributed, or separated into their temporal relations, as in the Apocalypse. The 1,000 years are not named precisely as they are not named by Daniel, Christ, or Paul, but are implicate throughout. Any argument drawn from the silence, or non-mention of the 1,000 years by the Standards, against the truth of the pre-millennial advent, is an argument against the canonicity of the Apocalypse, which is not silent, but does mention these years, uncovering only what is elsewhere concealed or pre-intimated, 1 Cor. 15:23, 24, and arrays, at once, the Apocalypse against all the other Scriptures.

In response to amillennial and postmillennial thought, West lays emphasis as well on the overall eschatology, and hermeneutical approach, of the Westminster Confession:

In the Westminster Standard Rome is Papal, not Pagan; Antichrist is the Pope, not Nero; the Parousia is personal and visible, not merely spiritual and providential; the breath of the Lord’s mouth that slays “that Wicked” is judicial, not evangelical; Antichristianity is destroyed, not converted by a revival; the Dragon is the Devil, not Paganism; the “tribes of the earth” that mourn when Christ comes are not merely the Jews, but all nations; the “earth” is not simply Palestine, but the planet; and the “clouds,” on which the Son of Man comes to the Judgment, are not “poetic drapery borrowed from judicial imagery,” but atmospheric thunder-heads. … The Domitianic date of the Apocalypse and the Year-Day theory, are interwoven through the Standards of Westminster, which are the strongest pre-millennial symbol ever made, buttressed by every proposition needed for that conclusion.

Explanatory note: the ‘Year-Day’ theory is a construct of historicism, such that prophetic days are really “years” and thus the 1,260 days of the Great Tribulation are actually 1260 years. See this article, from historicist historic premillennialist H.G. Guinness (1879)

and

None in the Westminster Assembly ever took ground that the 1,000 years are not a measure of time. The vast majority dated their commencement, not from Constantine, but from the Judgment on the Papal Antichrist, so repudiating the idea that Armageddon and the overthrow of Gog are identical, and refusing to violently rend the indissolvable temporal sequence of Rev. chapter 20th upon chapter 19th, or to identify the “Parousia,” with the “End,” in 1 Cor. 15:24. Clearly, they refused to arbitrarily interject the 1,000 years between the Judgment on Antichrist and the Parousia, but made both these events contemporate. They thus threw the 1,000 years into the future, beyond the Second Advent; in other words, made the Parousia pre-millennarian. And because the reign of Antichrist can not contemporate with the Millennial triumph over Antichrist,—the 1,260 years with the 1,000 years—but is the core of the Kingdom of Satan and Sin, they expounded the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer as invoking, among other things, the fullness of the Gentiles, the conversion of the Jews, the overthrow of Satan’s Kingdom, so “hastening the time of Christ’s Second Coming and our reigning with Him forever.” Emphasis was laid on this in the Scotch Directory for Public Prayer. The classic passage in Acts 3:19-21, pre-intimating the conversion of the Jews, miraculous, like that of the healed cripple, leaping and praising God and ascending to the Holy Temple, they referred to the time of the Second Advent, the Last, the Judgment Day, the “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” and paralleled it with the “Rest” that comes to the troubled Church, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven.” (2 Thess. 1:7.) And because the 1,000 years come after, and not before, the Judgment on Antichrist, and in view of the fact that the hour of Christ’s coming is unknown to men, they declared it to be the duty of all men, now to “shake off all carnal security,” and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and be ever prepared to say: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Pre-millennarians could ask no more.

One final selection regarding the doctrine of premillennialism and the Westminster Confession:

The pre-millennial advent is no merely allowable interpretation, to be graciously tolerated among “heretics,” by ostensibly orthodox men, who cut the Standards down while professing to defend them, but is an imposed corollary, implicate in the very warp and woof of the symbol itself, an immediate conclusion without a middle term, the rejection of which is an open abandonment of the Reformed ground, and open assault upon the Westminster Confession.

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 Real Story Behind the Pre-Conflagration, Supposed ‘Pre-Trib’ Rapture

December 16, 2013 10 comments

Recently an online posting has been circulating around, listing a number of well-known Christians throughout history who supposedly believed in a pre-tribulational rapture.  This posting does not include any actual source quotes from the people claimed to have believed in a pre-trib rapture, but asserts a “pre-trib” view for many of the early church fathers including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, as well as post-Reformation pre-19th century teachers including John Gill and Morgan Edwards.

I had already seen several quotes from the specific early church fathers, statements that show they understood that the saints (same group as the church), would experience the future time of antichrist.  Here are a few such statements, showing also their futurist (and premillennial) understanding of the events in Revelation:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4

And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: ‘And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47

For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, ‘I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.’

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61

That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains,…

Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1

The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.

As to the many current-day claims of pre-trib belief before the mid-19th century, it is interesting to note here that previous generations of dispensationalists —  Darby himself, also Scofield and later John Walvoord – all recognized and admitted that the pre-trib teaching was in fact a recent development.  This agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s observation in 1989 during his series through Revelation, that those who held to pre-trib acknowledged that it was a recent teaching. The claims of pre-trib belief prior to the mid-19th century, are themselves a revision introduced by more recent pre-trib and prophecy teachers.

The idea that historicist Christians, including Morgan Edwards and John Gill, believed in a type of “pre-tribulational rapture,” comes from a twisting of their “pre-conflagration” statements, such as the following from John Gill:  He’ll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet Him there, and whom He’ll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them from it….   I note here, first, that these statements still show an idea of one First Resurrection and not a two-stage coming with one group before the Great Tribulation followed by another resurrection/rapture after that event – really a type of “pre-wrath” rapture of believers taken out before God’s wrath.

A further point of distinction must also be noted here:  the difference between historicist and futurist ideas of the book of Revelation.  The historicists were generally premillennial (John Gill, and at least a few others), but they understood the Great Tribulation in a non-literal way, as occurring throughout church history, with the events in Revelation describing longer periods of time, symbolic descriptions of various wars with the Turks or other enemies throughout the church age.  According to the historicist view, the Great Tribulation is already occurring, we are already experiencing it:  an idea obviously incompatible with the very notion of a pre-Tribulational rapture of one group of believers.  If the whole church age is the Tribulation, a “pre-trib rapture” could only occur before the church age began, which becomes speculative nonsense.

Thus, the present-day claims of a pre-1830 belief in a pretribulational rapture of the church, “found” in the statements of 18th century historicist pre-conflagrationists, is really deceptive handling of true Christian doctrine (what these men actually believed) and church history.   Here I also can appreciate the honesty of the earlier dispensationalists, such as Walvoord, who at least recognized the correct time period for the origin of the pre-trib rapture idea.