THE PROSPECT BEFORE US. -
WHAT is to succeed these "times of the Gentiles"? Scripture clearly states that they are to be followed by the manifested kingdom of God on earth-immediately by its first section, the blessed, glorious millennial reign of Christ, "whom the heaven must receive until THE TIMES OF RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." No fifth Gentile monarchy is to succeed that of Rome, but rather that blessed state of things for which the Church has prayed for the last 1,800 years, saying, "Thy kingdom come."
All Christians are agreed that such is the Divine programme, but some expect this millennium to be a spiritual reign of Christ, lasting for a thousand years before His second advent-a reign similar in character to His present reign in the hearts and lives of His people, though more complete and universal; while others hold that Scripture teaches rather that there is to be a manifested reign, lasting for a thousand years after His second coming, prior to His eternal kingdom. Whichever view of the nature of the coming kingdom be the true one, the evidence of its proximity, which we have here arranged in order, is equally applicable, and should be equally welcome to both the above classes. Whatever be its character, surely a well- grounded conviction that the dawn of the millennial day is at last so near that one or other of the now living generations will witness it, is an inexpressibly blessed and glorious one! Whatever view be taken of the nature of the coming kingdom of God, it is and ought to be the object of strong desire to all His children. All agree that the millennial reign of Christ is to be universal in its extent, unspeakable in its privileges, a thousand years at least in duration before it merges into the eternal kingdom, and most blessed and glorious in its character. Can any renewed heart in which the love of God is shed abroad fail to beat high with hope and desire at the thought of the near approach of such a kingdom? It is true we cannot picture to ourselves its exact features, true that our minds are baffled in the attempt to imagine the universal prevalence on earth of true religion and righteousness, of perfect peace and unbroken prosperity, for a thousand years continuously; but that is no reason why we should doubt the reiterated promises of God that such a dispensation is coming. So clear and so strong is the testimony of Scripture on the subject, that nearly all Bible students and commentators, however different their views in other respects, are agreed in this, that our weary, sin cursed world is destined, according to the inspired programme of the future, yet to enjoy a sabbatic millenary, of joy and peace, of rest and worship.
Our venerable and valued friend, Dr. David Brown, of Aberdeen, the recognised champion of post-millennial views, describes this manifested kingdom of God on earth under the following heads:
1. It will be characterized by the universal diffusion of revealed truth.
2. It will be marked by the universal reception of the true religion, and unlimited subjection to the sceptre of Christ.
3. It will be a time of universal peace.
4. It will be distinguished by much spiritual power and glory.
5. It will be signalised by the restoration of all Israel.
6. It will be distinguished by the ascendency of truth and righteousness in human affairs.
7. It will be characterized by great temporal prosperity.
Pre-millennialists can most heartily agree with this statement as far as it goes, though they differ from Dr. Brown as to the way in which this blessed state of things is to be brought about. Hence we may say that the entire Church is expecting these "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord," this true golden age of humanity; expecting that the petition, "Thy kingdom come," put into her lips eighteen hundred years ago by the Saviour Himself, and since offered day by day incessantly, by successive generations, in all lands and ages, will at last be answered beyond all we ask or think - answered, not according to our imperfect conceptions, but according to Gods riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now whatever be the exact nature of this coming kingdom, it must, even to those who in their thoughts dissociate its advent and the second advent of Christ, be a blessed hope - the breaking of the morning without clouds, the end of the groaning and travailing of creation, the beginning of the glorious liberty of the sons of God, and of that dispensation which is to close His redeeming work, and to be followed, after a little season, by paradise restored, and by the unbroken and eternal fellowship of man with God in the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Yet while a blessed hope in any case, there can be no question that the view which postpones the second advent of Christ until the close of the millennium deprives it of its most blessed and glorious feature, as well as of its most solemn and sanctifying effects. For what is the coming of the kingdom to the coming of the KING? What is the blessing of nations on earth to the rapture of the marriage- supper of the Lamb? What is the peace and prosperity of the human race to the blessedness of the blood-bought bride of Christ when He comes to receive her to Himself, that she may be for ever with Him, the sharer of His glory and joy, as she has been the sharer of His sufferings, the partner of His crown, as she has been the partner of His cross? What earthly bliss can equal the being presented faultless before the throne of Gods glory with exceeding joy? What earthly paradise can rival the many mansions of the Fathers house, which our Lord has gone to prepare for His people? Glorious as is the prospect of a millennial sabbath, even when it stands alone, it exceeds in glory when it is conceived of as introduced by that coming of the Lord which is the only true hope of the Church, because it alone will bring her peculiar portion-full union with her Lord in His manifested glory. A millennium without Christ would be a mere prolongation of the present life of faith, a continuance of separation from an unseen Saviour, instead of that perfect union and association for which we long, and which the resurrection and rapture, the marriage of the Lamb, will bring. A millennium without a previous advent, with its accompanying resurrection of those that are Christs at His coming, might indeed be a blessed time to those who live during its course, but what to those who have fallen asleep, what to the vast majority of the saints?
That would be but a poor millennium in which the apostles, and the martyrs, and all the loved and lost who have gone before did not share. It might be, and undoubtedly would be, a better state of things than the present, but it would be infinitely inferior to the "blessed hope" set before us in a hundred passages of Scripture. The Church is not merely a company of saints, it is a body of which Christ is the Head; and just as every living creature has a certain standard of maturity, and never rests satisfied until it has attained that standard, so the Church as a whole, and each individual who forms part of it, can never be satisfied till it awakes in the likeness of Christ in resurrection. Neither individually nor collectively can our hopes stop short in a millennium which leaves the majority of the saints resting from their labours, and "present with the Lord" as to their spirits, in their graves as to the body-unclothed, imperfect, unable to take any part in the ministries of the kingdom, still waiting for the redemption of the body. The yearnings and longings of the Church after her own mature and perfect destiny cannot be satisfied by a millennium which can be enjoyed only by one generation at a time, severed by death from all the rest, and separated even as now from the Head. This is not the blessed hope of the Church, and such a millennium, however glorious, would be to her only a continuation of the time of waiting and watching for Christ.
The post-millennial view deprives the doctrine, not only of its sweetest and brightest, but also of its most solemn and sanctifying features. If this world is calmly and surely gliding on into days of millennial blessedness, if the spread of education, civilization, scientific knowledge, and the gospel are destined to bring about and introduce the kingdom of God, on earth, then it is clear that the present state of things, like a hopeful bud tending to expand into a glorious flower, must be good in itself, and certain to become better. We may rest satisfied as to its present, and be hopeful as to its future. There is no ground for apprehending its destruction by terrible Divine judgments, no need to warn the world and worldly Churches that ere long "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, . . . in that day." There is no need to remind men that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night," and that "when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them." If all is working on according to the plan and purpose of God, and will continue to do so until this Gentile age merges into the millennium, then there is no need to warn the wicked of impending judgment, for none is to be apprehended for at least a thousand years! If a thousand years of peace and prosperity, such as the world has never known, do indeed lie before it prior to the coming of Christ in judgment, then the siren song of peace and safety is right and reasonable, and its exceeding popularity is no cause of regret.
And further, if this millennial kingdom is to intervene between us and our blessed hope, the coming of our Lord, it is impossible to use the hope of that coming, as Scripture uses it, as the great present incentive to every grace-to watchfulness, to sobriety, to fidelity, to courage, to unworldliness, to moderation, to patience, to mortification of fleshly lusts, to sincerity, to entire sanctification, to ministerial faithfulness, to obedience to apostolic injunctions, to diligence, to purity, to the endurance of temptations, trials persecutions, and sufferings, to holy conversation and godliness, to brotherly love, and to separation from the world. The thought of the coming of the Lord is employed in the New Testament to enforce every exhortation, to strengthen every appeal,. to confirm every argument; and it is evident that the Church was designed to be kept in a state of constant watching and waiting for His appearing. But if a thousand years, even of millennial blessedness, is clearly revealed to intervene between us and our hope, its practical power is destroyed.
So serious and so evil are the results of severing the coming of the kingdom from the coming of the King, that we cannot close without earnestly urging those who still adhere to post-millennial views to reconsider their position. It were greatly to be desired that in these last days broad differences of opinion as to the meaning of Scripture prophecy, and especially this fundamental difference, should cease to exist; that at any rate on so simple a question as the chronological relation of the kingdom of God on earth to the second advent of Christ from heaven, unanimity should be attained by the study of Scripture, so that a clear and harmonious testimony might be borne by the Church to the world as to the doom lying before it.
What is and must be the effect on the ungodly of the discordant and contradictory witness on this subject at present borne by the Church? One section of interpreters assure them that peace and safety, prosperity and blessing, lie ahead, and that a thousand years and more will elapse ere any crisis of judgment or of supernatural intervention in human affairs need be apprehended; while others warn them with all earnestness that the days in which we live are like the days of Noah and the days of Lot, days immediately preceding a tremendous crisis of judgment. The one testimony is so completely weakened by the other, that neither is practically believed. The wicked not unnaturally think that no real revelation on the subject exists, as revelation could not be self-contradictory. What, on the other hand, might not be the blessed effect, if week by week from every pulpit in this and other lands, the Church, with one heart and one voice, were exhorting men to prepare for the inevitable, and warning them that the "sure word of prophecy" leaves no room to doubt, not only that the kingdom of God is at hand, but that it will be introduced by the second coming of Christ, "to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him"!
We do not and cannot believe that the attainment of unanimity on this important point is impossible. Truth on scientific and other subjects is reached at last, though often only after centuries of controversy. Why not truth on prophetic subjects? Controversy has lasted long enough; light is promised in these last times; and this should be an encouragement to seek it afresh and with increased earnestness in these days.
This is not the place to enter into a full argument in defence of the truth of pre- millennial doctrine; but we may present a few reasons why post-millennialists-at any rate, those among them who are in the position of teachers of the truth-should feel responsible to review their creed, and see if in the light of Scripture and of facts it be honestly tenable.
1. The doctrine that a still future millennium will precede the second advent of Christ was never broached in the Church for 1,600 years, not indeed until the seventeenth century.
"The commonly received opinion of a spiritual millennium, consisting in a universal triumph of the gospel and of all nations for a thousand years before the coming of Christ, is a novel doctrine, unknown to the Church for the space of 1,600 years. So far as we have been able to investigate its history, it was first advanced by the Rev. Dr. Whitby, the commentator, and afterwards advocated by Hammond, Hopkins, Scott, Bougne, and others, and has been received without careful examination by the majority of evangelical divines in the present day; but we may safely challenge its advocates to produce one distinguished writer in its favour who lived before the commencement of the eighteenth century." [ Bishop Henshaw on the second advent.]
The acknowledged originator of the doctrine of the post-millennial advent, Dr. Whitby (1638-1726), himself speaks of it as "a new hypothesis," and admits that the opposite view "passed among the best of Christians for 250 years as a tradition apostolical, and as such is delivered by many Fathers of the second and third century, who speak of it as the tradition of our Lord and His apostles, and of all the ancients that lived before them, and tell us the very words in which it was delivered, the Scriptures which were then so interpreted, and say that it was held by all orthodox Christians. It was received, not only in the eastern parts of the Church, but in Palestine, in Gaul, in Egypt, in the West and South; by Tertullian in Africa, Cyprian in Germany, Lactantius in Italy, and Severus, and by the first Nicene Council. These men taught this doctrine, not as doctors only, but as witnesses of the tradition which they had received from Christ and His apostles, and which was taught them by the elders, the apostles of Christ. They ground it upon numerous and manifest testimonies both of the Old and New Testaments, and speak of them as texts which would admit of no other meaning."
"The earliest creeds, and all creeds of all denomination in Christendom, from the apostles to this day, recognise no other millennium than that of a glorious one on the renovated earth at the coming of the Lord and resurrection of. the dead, whether Greek or Roman, apostate or reformed, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Independent, Congregational, or by whatsoever name a Church may be called. It must be confessed by intelligent divines that the now popular doctrine of the millennium is a modern one, totally unknown to the primitive and martyr Church; so modern that it has never a place in the formula of the faith of any Church, whether Greek, Roman, or Protestant, but all their creeds involve the contrary. . . This I boldly say, and challenge contradiction, that Dr. Whitbys honourable name is the first and earliest that I have seen quoted in support of the doctrine; and he gives credit to no other man for the discovery, but puts it roundly forth as his own opinion singly. And now so firmly planted has this new faith become in all the Churches of America, that no religious newspaper of high standing will admit into its columns an article questioning it. This state of things calls for mourning and indignation, that in so short a time an innovation, so complete in departure from the primitive faith and confessions of all Churches, should have entrenched itself in the heart of all denominations following the Reformation, which innovation this very Reformation expressly condemned as opposed to the Holy Scriptures." [Henry Dana Ward: "History and Doctrine of Millenarianism," pp.58, 59.]
A volume was published a few years ago by Messrs. Bagster & Sons, to whom the Church is indebted for so much help in biblical investigation, by Daniel T. Taylor, an American writer, entitled, "The Reign of Christ on Earth; or, The Voice of the Church in all Ages concerning the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer." This book contains the views on this great subject of 400 writers, who have lived at intervals all through the Christian centuries. It echoes "the voice of the Church of the living God, the light of the world for 1,700 years, through some 400 of its most ancient, eminent, learned, eloquent, and steadfast men-martyrs, confessors, preachers, teachers, expounders, reformers, orators, and poets-representing the Church during the whole period of its existence, and including all its branches and departments." And what does this voice say? This voice utters its solemn protest against the prevailing doctrine of the world s conversion, the delusion of those who say "peace and safety," while sudden destruction draweth nigh. These 400 witnesses include the apostolic Fathers, and the bright lights of the early Church. The line goes back through "the noble army of the martyrs," to the "goodly fellowship of the apostles. The records of the Church do not furnish 400 other names so famed as these, and these men have uttered in no uncertain tones the voice of the Church upon this important theme. Were they all mistaken in their understanding of Scripture statements for many hundreds of years? Was it reserved for modern divines to correct the faith of those who listened to apostolic teaching? The testimonies include those of the Fathers of the early Church-Clement and Barnabas; companions of St. Paul, Ignatius and Polycarp, Papias and Justin Martyr, Irenæus, the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, Hippolytus, Melito, Tertullian, Cyprian, and others, together with the Montanists, and Clement of Alexandria, Methodius, and others who flourished in the latter half of the third century. Up to this time no writer of repute and orthodoxy opposed the doctrine of Christs premillennial advent, or of His literal personal reign on earth.
Origen (A.D. 250) was the first to reject the doctrine of the millennium. He was however "a poor divine and a sorry philosopher," and, as Martin Luther wrote, his interpretations are to be avoided. According to his system, the sacred writings may be made to say everything, anything, or nothing, according to the fancy, peculiar creed, or caprice of the interpreter. He taught many false doctrines, as that magic is true and lawful science; that human souls existed previous to conception, and are condemned to animate mortal bodies in order to expiate evils committed in a pre- existent state; the universal restoration of the lost after a limited punishment, etc. and, above all, that the Scriptures are of little use if we understand them as they are written, and that the words in many parts of the Bible convey no meaning at all.
This man was the first opponent of pre-millennial doctrine, and Augustine, Jerome, and a multitude of the subsequent Fathers followed his teachings. But yet Origen was not a post-millennialist. He admits a first and second resurrection, and writes, "Let us lay the Scripture to heart, that we may be raised up with the saints, and have our lot with Jesus Christ." He seems simply to have confounded the millennial reign of Christ with the eternal age commencing after the final judgment. The majority of Christians however continued to maintain the millenarian view for some time after Origen. The Council of Nice, in A.D. 325, clearly avowed their millenarian faith: "At the appearing of the great God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, as Daniel says, the saints of the Most High shall take their kingdom, and there shall be a pure and holy earth, a land of the living, and not of the dead." But this blessed truth, which received their sanction, was crushed at last under the iron heel of antichrist. As the apostasy of the middle ages darkened down over Christendom, millennial truth was in measure lost sight of, but post-millennial views, let it be noted, were net substituted. The Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were anti-millenarian, but not post-millennialists. Jerome, in whose works the seeds of almost every Popish error may be found, was a bitter opponent of this doctrine; as Dr. Duffield observes, "He teems with abuse and ridicule in relation to the millennium; but by his general character for fierceness, acrimony, and ribaldry toward all who differ from him, he has forfeited all claims upon our respect." Yet he makes significant admissions; as, for instance, that the Roman empire will be destroyed on account of antichrists blasphemies at "the triumphant advent of the great God, and we are perfectly sure that after the second advent of our Lord nothing will be base, nothing terrestrial, but that then will be the celestial kingdom promised in the gospel." He thus gives no support to post-millennial doctrine, and he admits that the majority of the Christians of his day held millenarian views. It was through the influence of Jerome that the doctrine first began to fall into disrepute and dwindle away, until almost lost sight of in the dark ages. Augustine speaks of the conversion of the Jews, and remarks on the Lords Prayer: "His kingdom will come when the resurrection of the. dead shall have taken place, for then He will come Himself. This is what we wish and pray for when we say, Thy kingdom come.
During the period which elapsed between Augustine and Luther, while the apostasy was creeping on and during its culmination, all truth was obscured by papal superstition, and this among the rest. Millenarian views, once a mark of orthodoxy, came at last to be considered as heresy, and as the Apocalypse so distinctly taught them, its canonicity was doubted, and even attempts were made to exclude it from the canon. The true Church had believed and taught the doctrine, but the apostate Church crushed it. The awful centuries of Romes supremacy form a chasm in the history of millenarian doctrine, though not a few chosen witnesses held and taught it even then, like the Waldenses in their "noble lesson." As soon as the light of the Reformation began to dawn, this doctrine was revived. Wycliffe, in the fourteenth century, regarded the Redeemers appearing as the object of hope and expectation to the Church, and looked for no intervening period of millennial blessedness. Columbus, the illustrious discoverer of America, was a Christian man and a Bible student. In 1498 he prepared a paper on the prophecies of a very able character. He was no believer in the worlds conversion before the coming of Christ, but thought "that the ends of the earth would soon be brought together under the sway of the Redeemer, Mount Zion and Jerusalem be rescued from the Turks and rebuilt by the Christians, the nations know and revere the Cross, and the gospel, in fulfilment of our Lords words, be proclaimed in all the world; and then, without further delay, the end would come. This faith made him a discoverer."
In writing to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1503, after saying that he must hasten to finish up his work of Divine inspiration, namely, the opening up of the whole earth to the spirit of Christianity, preparatory to the coming of the Lord, Columbus adds, "According to my calculations, there remain now but 150 years to the end." So that the great discoverer of the western hemisphere felt impelled to his task, and performed it enthusiastically, under a solemn conviction that the coming of the Lord was imminent. And no sooner were the ages of darkness past than the early reformers came back decidedly to that important point, the looking for a speedy revelation in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. They expected no golden age, to be brought about by human agency. Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Knox individually, and the Confession of Augsburg, representing the Reformation corporately, all deny the modern doctrine of the worlds entire conversion before the return of Christ. A medal was in use in 1546, representing Christ as come down to judgment and the dead arising, and it bore the legend, "Watch; for ye know not at what hour the Lord cometh." It was struck just after Luthers death, and shows the then general apprehension among Protestants that the judgment was at hand. Tyndal expounded Revelation xx. as a literal first resurrection, and expected it to synchronise with the second advent: "Christ and His apostles warned us to look for His coming again every hour." He waited for the kingdom of God to be introduced by the return of the Saviour; so Latimer and Ridley; so the catechism of Edward VI., published in 1550; so Bale, Bishop of Ossory, who writes: "Unto kings has not God given to subdue these wild beasts. This is reserved to the victory of His living Word; only shall the breath of His mouth destroy them." So Fox, author of the "Book of Martyrs," who thought the day of the Lord to be near; and so Brightman, who died at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and Pareus, who argued against the notion of the conversion of the world before the coming of Christ. Mede, who flourished in the seventeenth century, has been called the prince of millenarians, and with his disciples Twiss, Usher, and Bunyan, did battle for the truth in their day.
Mede was a profoundly pious and learned man, and his works constitute an era in prophetic exposition. The divines of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, who compiled the celebrated Confession of Faith, and Longer and Shorter Catechisms, and signed the Solemn League and Covenant, were many of them millenarians. The Baptist confession of faith, presented to Charles II. in 1660, shows the coming of the Lord and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth in their right order; and the 20,000 elders, deacons, and brethren in whose name it was signed say, "We are not only resolved to suffer persecution, but to lose life itself rather than decline from this confession." The famous early New England pastors insisted strongly on the doctrine of Christs glorious kingdom on earth to take place after the conversion of the Jews, and when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in. For 100 years the large mass of New England Christians knew nothing of a post-millennial advent. In 1667 a volume was published by Samuel Hutchinson, entitled "Declaration of a Future glorious Estate of the Church to be here upon Earth at Christs Personal Appearance for the Restitution of all Things." Scores of names of American pastors and teachers might be mentioned who equally held this faith. Holmes, one of the early Baptists of America, who suffered severely for his faith, gives it as the thirty-third article of his creed: "I believe the promise of the future concerning the return of Israel and Judah, and the coming of the Lord to raise up the dead in Christ, and to change them that are alive; that they may reign with Him a thousand years according to the Scriptures. In this faith and profession I stand, and have sealed the same with my blood in Boston, New England." (He had been scourged with thirty lashes of a three-corded whip.)
The eighteenth century was for the most part a worldly one. Bengel calls it a frigid, slumbering age, that needed an awakener. Such was the complaint both in England and on the continent, and one of its causes may have been the spread of Whitbys "new hypothesis," which postponed the hope of the Church for a thousand years.
This naturally helped to stifle hope and encourage worldliness. Premillennial truth was unpopular, and spiritual life decayed with it. The birth of missionary enterprise in a subsequent revival also indirectly fostered this tendency; for the right and praiseworthy desire to see the heathen converted suggested and encouraged the false anticipation of the conversion of the world, to the obscuring of the scriptural doctrine that the gospel is to be "preached among all nations for a witness unto them, and then shall the end come." The doctrine of the coming of Christ was lost sight of in the Church, and replaced by the dream of a golden age, to be enjoyed in His absence. [See for full particulars Taylors "Reign of Christ on Earth." London: Bagster & Sons, Paternoster Row, E.C.]
To sum up- The fact is, that three leading theories in succession have prevailed in the Church on this subject. Throughout the three first centuries the great majority of Christians looked for the first coming of Christ to be followed at once by the millennium. As the apostasy came on after the establishment of imperial Christianity in the days of Constantine, this original and apostolic view was gradually expelled by a very different one, one which all would now agree in regarding as erroneous. The Church, triumphant, prosperous, wealthy, and honoured in the world, began to fancy that the millennium had already arrived. The coming of the Lord was still for a while looked for as at hand, but the millennium was dated from the first advent, and expounded of a thousand years, or a shorter period to elapse before the coming of antichrist. Modifications of this creed prevailed in the apostate Church during the dark ages, and right down to the dawn of the Reformation, though some few held fast the truth. The Reformers revived sound doctrines on this as on other subjects. Within the last two hundred years, however, a third opinion, distinct from both the former, has obtained currency in the various branches of the Protestant Church. The millennium is viewed as still future, but as placed before the second advent. Many pious Christians, little versed in history, have even come to imagine this to have been the general and constant faith of the Church from the beginning. A greater mistake as to a question of fact was never committed this hypothesis is of all the three the most recent in its birth, and has had by far the shortest continuance, and has also never obtained so decisive a prevalence as the two others." [Birks: "First Two Visions of Daniel," p. 347.]
2. A millennium previous to the coming of Christ is nowhere mentioned in Scripture; nowhere, either in the Old or New Testament, can these two events, the millennium and the second advent, be found in this order. They are very frequently mentioned together, but always in the reverse order, first the advent, then the millennium. In the twentieth chapter of Revelation-the passage where the millennium is revealed, with its character as a reign of Christ and His saints, and its duration-it is immediately preceded, and we may say introduced, by a full and distinct description of the marriage of the Lamb (or the first resurrection), and of the second advent of Christ with His saints in heavenly glory to judge and destroy the confederate hosts of evil. On the other hand, no account of an advent for the Church follows the millennial vision, but instead the resurrection of the wicked and "the second death," the final judgment of the great white throne, and then the new heaven and new earth. This alone seems decisive. Unless we are to explain away the advent, which is described in the context as preceding the millennium, and introduce elsewhere another such advent, of which it gives no hint whatever, we cannot deny that the revealed order is first the advent, and secondly the reign, of Christ, and not the reverse. The visions of Daniel give the same order; the wild- beast monarchies of earth continue to exist until "one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and there was given to Him a kingdom that shall not be destroyed," and with Him to "the people of the saints of the Most High" (#Dan 7:14, 27).
The second coming of Christ is mentioned over a hundred times in the New Testament, and not once in connexion with a previous millennium. Now had such a glorious age been destined to intervene between apostolic days and the advent, it surely would have been put before the Church as an object of hope. This it never is; while the Old Testament is full of the millennium, the New Testament mentions it but little, but alludes to the advent which introduces it in every thirtieth verse on an average. The blessed hope for which the Church has so long waited, and still waits, is not the millennium, though it includes it; it is the coming of Him who will introduce it. The silence of Scripture as to any golden age before the second advent proves that there will be none.
But further. The descriptions of the earthly future of the Church prior to her Lords return given in the New Testament are very full, and every single experience foretold is distinctly and unmistakably of an unmillennial character. The Church is to be a little flock, like sheep among wolves, to the end. If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he is to suffer persecution. His disciples are to be hated and rejected like their Master, and are warned that the disciple is not above his Lord, and that therefore their testimony will be no more received than was that of their Lord. It was foretold that the greater part of the Church would become apostate, and continue so to the end of the age, and that rest and peace would be the portion of Christians only when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven, with His mighty angels, to judge the apostates and reward the faithful. The entire interval is filled up with events which altogether preclude the possibility of a millennium.
3. The predictions of antichrist prove the same order. It is evident that antichrist is to be destroyed by the coming of Christ, as is distinctly stated in #2Thess 4 and elsewhere. Now St. Paul says in that same passage that the mystery of iniquity which would eventuate in the production of antichrist was already working in his own day, and would continue to do so until it culminated in his revelation and reign, while he would be destroyed only at the epiphany: hence the entire interval from apostolic times to the second advent of Christ is filled up by the growth, culmination, and decay of the great apostasy which is headed by the Roman antichrist.
[No ingenuity can get over the conclusive argument for a pre-millennial advent derived from this fact. Daniel, Paul, and John, all three distinctly associate antichrist with the fourth or Roman Empire, while stating at the same time that he will be destroyed only at the Epiphany. Hence the advent and kingdom of Christ immediately succeed the existing apostate and antichristian state of Latin Christendom,]
Now as the existence of this apostasy cannot be reconciled with a millennial condition of things, it is clear that there con be no millennium until after Christ comes to destroy it.
4. It will be contrary to every analogy of the past, in the entire history of the human race, if this Christian age were to go from good to better until it blossomed into a millennium. All previous ages have gone from good to bad, and ended in abounding iniquity, which brought down judgment, and was followed by a fresh departure. Eden did so; the antediluvian world did so; the patriarchal age beginning with the Noaic generation sank into idolatry, necessitating the selection of a peculiar people to preserve the light of revealed religion on earth; the earliest Gentile kingdom, Egypt, fell from the glory of Josephs days to the judgments of the plagues and the Red Sea; the people of Israel did so, lapsing from the law given on Sinai to the gross idolatry and vice of Manassehs reign, and bringing on themselves national extinction. The restored remnant of Judah did the same, and by their rejection of Christ brought upon themselves the destruction of Jerusalem and their present dispersion. The early Church left its first love; the martyr Church sank into many superstitions; imperial Christianity ran rapidly downhill into utter worldliness and carnal strife, into error and superstition. The Papal Church developed the great apostasy, and the Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and other Eastern Churches have all had their candlesticks removed. The very heathen have so fallen from the light of nature, as in many cases to have sunk lower than brutes, and perished in their own corruption. Even the reformed Churches have all grown impure and worldly; nothing that exists, or ever has existed since the fall, has held fast its perfection or progressed from a lower to a higher platform, and if the present state of things were to improve into the millennium, it would form an abrupt and startling contrast to every analogy of the past.
It is no reply to assert that post-millennialists teach that an outpouring of the Spirit will cause the anticipated triumph of the gospel. Only one great outpouring of the Spirit is predicted in the Scriptures, and Peters quotation from Joel in Acts ii. shows that it took place at Pentecost. The departure of Christ was followed by the advent of the Comforter He promised, and that Comforter has abode with the Church ever since, and will do so until Christs return. There have been spiritual revivals at certain epochs and places, reformations and glad seasons of ingathering under the power of this Holy Spirit, and there will doubtless be such increasingly to the end. But none of these have excluded declension; the evil heart of unbelief, prone to depart from the living God, has ever led to fresh apostasy, nor is there the slightest ground to suppose that it will ever be otherwise. No second Pentecost is to occur in the history of the Church, and even Pentecost itself did not convert the world.
5. The present state of things in the world confirms in the strongest way the conviction that the millennium will never be introduced by existing agencies prior to the coming of the Lord.
"If the gospel were to convert the world, we should have seen tokens of it ere this. But where are such omens to be found? Shall we look to missionaries, who sometimes labour for years before one sinner yields to the claims of the gospel?
Shall we look to the dense darkness of the heathen world? Shall we look at the formalism of the professed Church? Shall we look at the wide extension of infidelity? Shall we look at the abounding of iniquity and the waxing cold of love? Shall we look at a world where eighteen hundred years of toil and tears has not brought one-twentieth part of mankind even to a profession of true Christianity, and where not more than one-fifth claim for themselves the dubious title of Christian nations? Shall we look over a world in which we cannot find one nation of Christians, nor one tribe of Christians, nor one city of Christians, nor one town of Christians, nor one village of Christians, nor one hamlet of Christians, save here and there where a questionable faith has led a few, with hypocrites even then among them, to withdraw themselves from the world, and cherish the untried virtues of a secluded life? Surely, after eighteen hundred years of experiment with a system designed to convert the world, men might point to some country, to some province, to some nation, and say, Behold the commencement of a converted world!
"Where shall we look to find the tokens of the speedy dawning of the hoped for day of peace? Shall we look at Christendom, where for every missionary sent forth to convert the heathen a thousand soldiers are trained and supported that they may cut each others throats? Shall we look at the dense masses of godless, hopeless toilers, who journey on in darkness to perdition, in the chief cities of boasted Christian lands? Shall we look to those nations which claim to be mentally and morally in advance of all the inhabitants of the globe, but who spend more money for strong drink than they do for bread, and whose yearly expenditure for all religious and secular instruction, and for all purposes of Christian charity, would not pay for the cost of the intoxicating drinks consumed by them in a single mouth?
"Shall we look to the centres of Christian civilization, where squalor crowds on splendour, and where Lazarus still lies, licked by the dogs, hard by the rich mans gate; where in the midst of lavished wealth and wasted treasure thousands of helpless women make their dire election between hunger and shame, starvation and damnation? Shall we explore the great cities of Christendom, where, surrounded by sky-piercing steeples and sweetly chiming bells, poor motherless, friendless outcasts wander, wet and weary, through the midnight hours, scorned by Simon the pharisee and his proud wife and silk-robed daughters, finding no way to draw near to Him who calls the heavy laden to come and rest, no place in the rich mans house to bathe His feet with penitential tears, no path open but the downward way, no gate ajar but the broad gate that leadeth to destruction? Shall we visit the gorgeous temples erected to Him, who, more homeless than the foxes and the birds, was cradled in the wayside manger, and was buried in a strangers tomb, but the price of whose blood bought a potters field where strangers might be buried?
We shall find by the smell of mint, and anise, and cummin that the tithes are promptly paid by the proud pharisee, whose God, I thank Thee echoes through the sounding aisles; but shall we not also find Fraud and Greed sitting side by side in the chief seats of the synagogue, and unclean reptiles swarming like frogs of Egypt, while this tables of the money-changers still stand right side up, and no scourge of small cords drives the buyers and the sellers from the sacred place?
"Shall we look to China, in whose provinces a few mission stations twinkle like tapers in the midst of darkness, wide-reaching and almost impenetrable? While we rejoice at the salvation of some in the far-off land of Sinim, let us not forget that every passing day witnesses the horrible death of not less than one thousand Chinamen, diseased, debauched, degraded, murdered, damned by the use of that opium which is raised and sold by the British Government, and forced on the unwilling heathen by Christian England at the cannons mouth and at the bayonets point; and that while the British and Foreign Bible Society reports an income of one million of dollars per year for the diffusion of the word of God, the Christian Government of Great Britain derives the annual income of forty-five millions of dollars from the opium trade.
Shall we turn to India, with its myriad populations, where the rulers of this same Christian nation long barred the way against the gospel of Christ, which has at last effected an entrance, but where intemperance and dissipation have made such havoc that, to use the words of Archdeacon Jefferies, a missionary there, For one really converted Christian as a fruit of missionary labour, the drinking practices of the English have made fully a thousand drunkards in India.
Shall we look at the far off islands of the Southern Seas, where heathenism has been banished by the light of gospel truth, and barbarism has given place to an enlightened civilization? We shall find that those races which lived in health and strength in spite of barbarism and cannibalism are now slowly dying out, from unreportable diseases and vices, unknown in the barbarous condition, but which have been brought to their shores by sailors from Christian lands, and which, spreading like the gangrene of hell, are eating out the sources of national life, "Where shall we go to find the evidence of this glad era of universal peace and blessing, which is proclaimed as so sure to come and so near at hand?"
If the world is not converted, will not the gospel then prove a failure? That depends upon what is to be expected of it. If the lifeboat was intended to keep the ship from sinking, then it proves a failure if it only save the crew. If the gospel was to effect the eternal salvation of all mankind, then failing to accomplish that work is a failure of the gospel. It the gospel was to convert the world, it will prove a failure if that is not done. But if the gospel was preached to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name, then it is not a failure. If it was given that God might in infinite mercy and love save some, then it is not a failure. If it was given that every repentant sinner might have eternal life, and that every good soldier might receive a crown of glory, then it is not a failure. If it was given that an innumerable company might be redeemed our or every kindred and tongue and nation and people, then it is not a failure. If it was given that the vales and hills of paradise restored might teem with a holy throng, who shall be equal unto the angels, the children of God, being the children of the resurrection, then it is not a failure. If it was given that the elect might be brought into one great family of holy ones, then it is not a failure." [Taylor;"Reign of Christ on Earth." Preface, pp. xi-xiv., xv.]
To recapitulate our objections to the doctrine of a millennium before the second advent of Christ we may say in the words of another:
"Our reasons for rejecting it are summarily as follows:
1. The doctrine is not taught by either Christ or His apostles.
2. The uniform teaching of the New Testament respecting the condition of the Church and of the world during the present dispensation forbids 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 presented as an event ever imminent.
4. The Saviours repeated command to watch for His coming, because we know not the hour, is inconsistent with the new idea of a millennium intervening.
5. The New Testament teaches that the manifestation of the Messianic kingdom is to occur at, and not before the advent.
6. The apostolic Church was pre-millenarian.
7. The Church for two centuries immediately succeeding the apostles was pre- millenarian.
8. The doctrine of a millennial era before the advent is a novelty in the history of the Church, proposed but little more than one hundred and fifty years ago, avowedly as a new hypothesis.
The summary of Christian faith and practice given by an inspired apostle is, The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world ; looking for that blessed hope, amid the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." [J. T. Duffield, D.D.: "Pre-millennial Essays," pp. 426, 427.]
We conclude then with all confidence, from the clear testimony of Scripture, and from the united witness of the early Church, and of a multitude of Christian interpreters of all ages, that the second advent of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will introduce His millennial reign on earth; and we proceed next to collect the scattered rays of light in Scripture as to the nature of the coming kingdom of God and " times of restitution of all things, spoken of by all His holy prophets since the world began."