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§ 5. The Theory of the Pre-millennial Advent.
The common doctrine of the Church stated above, is that the conversion of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist are to precede the second coming of Christ, which event will be attended by the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the end of the world, and the consummation of the Church. In opposition to this view the doctrine of a pre-millennial advent of Christ has been extensively held from the days of the Apostles to the present time.876876There recently appeared in the Presbyterian, a series of articles signed “Twisse,” understood to be from the pen of the Rev. Dr. Duffield of Princeton, New Jersey, designed to sustain the doctrine of the pre-millennial advent of Christ, and especially to disprove “the doctrine of a millennial era of universal righteousness and peace on earth before” the second coming of Christ. The arguments summarily stated by the writer as the following: “(1.) Were the doctrine true, it would undoubtedly be prominent in the New Testament, and especially in the Apostolical Epistles. The fact is, it is not only just prominent, but, so far as we are informed, the advocates of the doctrine do not pretend to find in the Epistles the slightest allusion to it. (2.) The uniform and abundant teaching of the New Testament as to the condition of the Church and of the world during the present dispensation — that is, until the advent — forbid the expectation of such a millennium. (3.) The advent itself, not the millennium, is prominently presented in the New Testament as ‘the blessed hope’ of the Church, and is uniformly referred to as an event near at hand, ever imminent, to be ‘looked for’ with longing expectation. (4.) The Saviour’s repeated command to ‘watch’ for his coming, because we ‘know not the hour,’ is inconsistent with the idea of a millennium intervening. (5.) The New Testament teaches repeatedly and unequivocally that the advent and the manifestation of the Messianic kingdom are to be synchronous events. (6.) The Apostolic Church, under the instruction of those holy men who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, was millennarian. (7.) The Church, for two centuries immediately succeeding the Apostles was millennarian. (8.) The doctrine of a millennium before the advent is not to be found in the standards of any of the Churches of the Reformation; by several it is expressly repudiated. It is a modern novelty, suggested but one hundred and fifty years ago by Whitby, and avowedly as ‘a new hypothesis.’” According to this view, (1.) The nations are not to be converted, nor are the Jews to be restored to their standing in the Church, until the second coming of Christ. (2.) His advent is to be personal and glorious. (3.) He will establish Himself in Jerusalem as the head of a visible, external kingdom. (4.) When He comes, the martyrs, as some say, or, as others believe, all who sleep in Jesus, shall be raised from the dead and associated with Him in this earthly kingdom. (5.) The Jews are to be converted, restored to their 862own land, invested with special honours and prerogatives, and made the instruments of the conversion of the world. (6.) This kingdom is to be one of great splendour, prosperity, and blessedness, and is to continue a thousand years; which, however, as stated above, is understood in different senses. (7.) After the expiration of the millennium, the general resurrection of the dead, the end of the world, and the final consummation of the Church are to occur. Such are the general features of the scheme which., with many modifications as to details, is known as the pre-millenial advent theory.
The leading objections to this doctrine have been already presented in the discussions of the several topics included under the general head of eschatology. They may be summarily stated as follows: —
1. It is a Jewish doctrine. The principles adopted by its advocates in the interpretation of prophecy, are the same as those adopted by the Jews at the time of Christ; and they have led substantially to the same conclusions. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came He would establish a glorious earthly kingdom at Jerusalem; that those who had died in the faith should be raised from the dead to share in the blessings of the Messiah’s reign; that all nations and peoples on the face of the whole earth should be subject to them; and that any nation that did not serve them should be destroyed. All the riches and honours of the world were to be at their disposal. The event disappointed these expectations; and the principles of prophetic interpretation on which those expectations were founded were proved to be incorrect.
2. This theory is inconsistent with the Scriptures, inasmuch as it teaches that believers only are to rise from the dead when Christ comes; whereas the Bible declares that when He appears all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.
3. The Bible teaches that when Christ comes all nations shall appear at his bar for judgment. This theory teaches that the final judgment will not occur until after the millennium. It may be said that the judgment is to commence at the second advent and continue during the reign of a thousand years. But the general judgment cannot occur before the general resurrection, and as the general resurrection, according to this theory, is not to take place until after the millennium, so neither can the general judgment.863
4. The Scriptures teach that when Christ comes the second time without sin unto salvation, then the Church shall enter on its everlasting state of exaltation and glory. Those in Christ who have departed this life shall be raised from the dead and be clothed with their spiritual bodies, and those who are alive shall be changed in a moment, and thus they shall be ever with the Lord. According to this theory, instead of heaven awaiting the risen saints, they are to be introduced into a mere worldly kingdom.877877It is true that pre-millennialists differ very much on this point. The common opinion in the early Church was that the risen saints are to live and reign a thousand years with Christ on earth; but some say that the glorified believers are to be in heaven; others, that they are to appear from time to time on earth, as Christ did, during the forty days which intervened between his resurrection and ascension; and others appear to teach that glorified saints are to rule over unglorified humanity without being revealed to those over whom they reign.
5. It is inconsistent with all the representations given of the glory and blessedness of departed saints, to assume that at the resurrection they are to be brought down to a lower state of existence, degraded from heaven to earth. The millennium may be a great advance on the present state of the Church; but, exalt it as you may, it is far below heaven. This argument bears, at least, against the patristic doctrine of the millennium.
6. The view presented by pre-millennarians of the kingdom of Christ on earth is, in many respects, inconsistent with the Scriptural account of its nature. (a.) It is to be a worldly kingdom. (b.) Its blessedness is to consist largely in worldly prosperity. Although the modern advocates of the doctrine have eliminated the grosser elements included in the theory of many of the fathers on this subject, nevertheless the essential earthly character of the kingdom remains. Men are not to be like the angels. Births and deaths are to go on, not only during the millennium, but without end. Not that the glorified believers who have been raised from the dead are to marry and be given in marriage, but the race of men is to continue indefinitely to increase in the future as it has increased in the past.878878See passages cited from distinguished millennarians on this point in Rev. David Brown’s Christ’s Second Coming, pp. 167-173. Mr. David N. Lord devotes to this subject two chapters of his book on The Coming and Reign of Christ. New York, 1858. He says (p. 151), that the Scriptures teach that the earth is “to continue forever, and that mankind are forever to occupy it, and multiply in an endless succession of generations; and that it is to be the scene of Christ’s everlasting kingdom and reign.” He argues this from the covenant made from Noah; from the promise made to Abraham that his seed should forever possess the land of Canaan; and from the promise made to David that his seed should sit on his throne and reign forever. This perpetuity of the human race on the earth and in the flesh, he considers one of the most clearly revealed purposes of God concerning the family of man. Instead of the number of the redeemed being nearly made up, he holds that they are to go on multiplying through all eternity. (c.) The Bible teaches 864that the distinction between the Jews and Gentiles is abolished in the kingdom of Christ. This theory teaches that after the second advent that distinction is to continue and to be made greater than ever before. The temple at Jerusalem is to be rebuilt; the sacrifices restored; and all the details of the Mosaic ritual, as described in Ezekiel, again introduced. (d.) The Bible teaches that after the end of the world, as described in 2 Peter iii. 10 and in the Apocalypse, there are to be a new heavens and a new earth. This theory teaches the “earth’s eternal perpetuity.”879879The Last Times and the Great Consummation. By Joseph A. Seiss, D. D. Philadelphia and London, 1866. p. 73. On p. 75, the author says, “The earth shall not pass away.” “The dissolving fires of which Peter speaks,” we are told, “are for ‘the perdition of ungodly men;’ and not for the utter depopulation and destruction of the whole world Men and nations will survive them and still continue to live in the flesh.”880880Seiss, ut supra, p. 211.
7. This theory disparages the Gospel. “The more common opinion,” says Dr. McNeile, “is, that this is the final dispensation, and that by a more copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit it will magnify itself, and swell into the universal blessedness predicted by the prophets, carrying with it Jews and Gentiles, even the whole world, in one glorious flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord. This is reiterated from pulpit, press, and platform. It is the usual climax of missionary exhortation, or rather missionary prophecy.”881881Lectures on the Prophecies Relative to the Jewish Nation, 1st ed., 1830, p. 72. “The universal prevalence of religion hereafter to be enjoyed,” says Mr. Brooks, “is not to be effected by any increased impetus given by the present means of evangelizing the nations, but by a stupendous display of Divine wrath upon all the apostate and ungodly.”882882Elements of Prophetic Interpretation, pp. 227, 228. Wrath, however, never converted a single soul, and never will. “The Scriptures,” according to Mr. Tyso, “do state the design of the Gospel, and what it is to effect; but they never say it is to convert the world. Its powers have been tried for eighteen hundred years, and it has never yet truly converted one nation, one city, one town, nor even a single village.”883883Defence of the Personal Reign of Christ, 1841, p. 41, 42. In the work of Rev. David Brown on the Second Advent,884884pp. 311-315. abundant evidence is advanced from the writings of Mr. Brooks, Dr. McNeile, and the Rev. Mr. Bickersteth, to show that those gentlemen teach that the Scriptures “are to be superseded” in the millennium. Other means, probably, as they 865say, other revelations are to be made for the salvation of men. Any theory which thus disparages the gospel of the grace of God must be false. Christ’s commission to his Church was to preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven; Paul says, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation; that, though a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God; that it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; and he plainly teaches (Rom. x. 11-15) that there is no other means of salvation. Wrath, judgments, displays of visible glory, and miracles are not designed for the conversion of souls, nor are they adapted to that end.
8. Another objection to the pre-millennial theory is the want of consistency in its advocates and the conflicting conclusions to which they come. They profess to adopt the principle of literal interpretation. They interpret literally the prophecies relating to the return of the Jews to their own land; which promise to them as a nation dominion over all the other nations of the earth, the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of the Temple-service, the greatest worldly prosperity, and even the everlasting perpetuity of their nation in the highest state of blessedness here on earth and “in the flesh.” Yet they are forced to abandon their literalism when they come to the interpretation of the prophecies which predict that all the nations of the earth are to go up to Jerusalem every month, and even on every Sabbath. And more than this, they go to the extreme of figurative or spiritual interpretation in explaining the prophecies which refer to the end of the world. The Apostle Peter says in express terms: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” This they deny. They say that it is only certain nations who are to be destroyed; that the earth is not to be depopulated; that the final conflagration will produce less change or injury than the deluge did.885885The Last Times, J. A. Seiss, D. D. p. 74.
The utmost confusion also prevails in the views of pre-millennarians as to the nature of the kingdom of Christ. According to one view Christ and his risen and glorified saints are to dwell visibly on the earth and reign for a thousand years; according to another, the risen saints are to be in heaven, and not on earth my more than the angels now are; nevertheless the subjects of the first resurrection, although dwelling in heaven, are to govern 866the earth; according to another it is the converted Jewish nation restored to their own land, who are to be the governors of the world; according to another, the Bible divides men into three classes: the Gentiles, the Jews, and the Church of God. The prophecies relating to the millennium are understood to refer to the relative condition of the Jews and Gentiles in this world, and not to the risen and glorified believers. Another view seems to be, that this earth, changed no more by the fires of the last day than it was by the waters of the deluge, is to be the only heaven of the redeemed. Dr. Cumming and Dr. Seiss say they wish no better heaven than this earth free from the curse and from sin. The latter says:886886The Last Times, p. 72. “My faith is, that these very hills and valleys shall yet be made glad with the songs of a finished redemption, and this earth yet become the bright, blessed, and everlasting homestead of men made glorious and immortal in body and in soul.” Still another view is that there are two heavens, one here and one above; two Jerusalems, both to continue forever, the one on earth and the other in heaven; the one made with hands, the other without hands; both glorious and blessed, but the earthly far inferior to the heavenly; they are like concentric circles, one within the other; both endless. Men will continue forever, on earth, living and dying; happy but not perfect, needing regeneration and sanctification; and, when they die, will be translated to the kingdom which is above.
It seems therefore that the torch of the literalist is an “ignis fatuus,” leading those who follow it, they know not whither. Is it not better to abide by the plain doctrinal teaching of the Bible, rather than to trust to the uncertain expositions of unfulfilled prophecies? What almost all Christians believe is: (1.) That all nations shall be converted unto God. Jesus shall reign from the rising to the setting of the sun. (2.) That the Jews shall be reingrafted into their own olive-tree and acknowledge our Lord to be their God and Saviour. (3.) That all Antichristian powers shall be destroyed. (4.) That Christ shall come again in person and with great glory; the dead shall be raised, those who have done good unto the resurrection of life, those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation; and, (5.) That the righteous clothed in their glorified bodies shall then inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked be consigned to their final doom.867
Did the Apostles expect the Second Advent in their Day?
The simple facts on this subject are: (1.) That the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom was the great object of expectation and desire for the people of God from the beginning of the world. It was the great subject of prophecy and promise under the old dispensation. The ancient saints are described (as Christians now are) as those who were constantly hoping for the coming of the Lord. (Eph. ii. 12; Acts xxvi. 6, 7.) The dying thief said: “Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The last question put to our Lord by his disciples was: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel.” (2.) As the Messiah came at first as a man of sorrows, to make Himself a sacrifice for sin, He promised to come a second time without sin unto salvation, to raise the dead and to gather all his people into his everlasting home. His second coming therefore was to Christians what his first coming was to the Old Testament saints; the constant object of expectation and desire. (3.) As the time of the second advent was unrevealed either to men or angels, the early Christians hoped it might occur in their day. The Apostles themselves no doubt at first cherished that expectation. (4.) To the Apostle Paul, however, it was revealed that the day of the Lord was not to come until a great apostasy had occurred. (5.) Nevertheless as the Apostolic Christians did not know how long that apostasy was to continue, their constant prayer was, O Lord come quickly. The Apostles continued to hold up the second advent as an impending event, the moral impression of which ought to be to raise the affections of the people from the world and fix them on the things unseen and eternal. Those who urge the fact that the New Testament writers speak of the day of the Lord as at hand, and exhort believers to watch and pray for his advent, as a proof that the Apostles believed that it might occur at once, that no events then future must come to pass before Christ came, forget that what inspired men said God said. If God, who knew that Christ was not to come for at least eighteen centuries after his ascension, could say to his people: “The day of the Lord is at hand.” “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh,” then that language was appropriate even on the assumption that those who used it knew that the second advent was not to occur for thousands of years; for a thousand years are with God as one day, and one day as a thousand 868years. The Church waited four thousand years for the fist advent; we may be content to wait God’s time for the second.887887Millennarians are not consistent in urging the objection considered in the text, as some at least of their own number teach that important events yet future must occur before the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. For example, Rev. John Cox, Minister of the Gospel, Woolwich, in his Thoughts on the Coming and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, devotes the third chapter of that work to prove that the entire destruction of the Papacy, of Mohammedanism, and of the tyrannical kingdoms of the world, and the restoration of the Jews to their own land, must precede the kingdom of Christ. See The Literalist, vol. v. p. 26 ff. The Literalist is a collection, in five octavo volumes, of the publications of the leading English pre-millennarians. Published by Orrin Rogers, Philadelphia, 1840 and 1841.
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