By James H. Brookes
WITNESSES TO THE HOPE.
| IS needless, perhaps, to affirm that the early Christians were pre-millennialists. That is, they looked for the speedy personal return of the Lord Jesus, and did not dream of a spiritual millennium, or the conversion of the world by the Church. This is freely admitted by Dr. Charles Hodge, Mr. Albert Barnes, Prof. Hackett and all other post-millennial expositors without exception, so far as known. All no doubt would heartily agree with the remarks of Mr. Barnes on the words to wait for His Son from heaven, 1 Thess. i. 10.
If the objection is raised that Mr. Barnes, and the other commentators named, were themselves postmillennialists, the answer is at hand. The testimony of an unwilling witness is always and properly considered more conclusive than the testimony of a witness, whose prejudices or interests incline him to the evidence he gives. If these gentlemen had found any way to escape the conclusion that the early Christians stood in an attitude of expecting the personal coming of Christ, they would certainly have availed themselves most gladly of an opportunity, at least, to keep silent upon the subject. We have nothing to do with their opinions, but only with their testimony concerning the universal belief of the first disciples.
Thus we are not compelled to accept the rationalistic tendencies of Prof. Harnack, although forced to bow to his testimony as a historian, because he is everywhere recognized as the ablest patristic scholar now living. Evidently he is not in sympathy with the truth of our Lord’s pre-millennial coming, but he is obliged as an honest witness to place upon record what he has discovered by a thorough search into the Christian literature of the first centuries. It is scarcely necessary to say that millennium is a Latin word, and chiliad is a Greek word, both referring to the thousand years when Satan shall be bound, when the righteous dead shall be raised, and when shall be fulfilled the sweet benediction, “Blessed and holy is he. that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years,” Rev. xx. 6.
He then quotes from a number of men who laboured with the apostles, or were their immediate successors in the office of preaching the gospel, all going to show that it may still be questioned whether the Lord’s personal and pre-millennial return to the earth may not be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion.
Just so. The spirit of philosophical and theological speculation and of ethical reflection, and Neo-Platonic mysticism patronised by the cultured, are enough to kill all faith, not only in the coming of Christ, but in Christ Himself. This is the trouble with the Church of the present day, and unless it gives up the folly, it will drift, as the Church did after surrendering the hope of the Lord’s coming, into the dark ages. Philosophical and theological speculation, and ethical reflection, and Neo-Platonic mysticism and culture are choking the life out. of the professing people of God; and the devil stands by laughing.
Prof. Harnack attributes the overthrow of the early faith to the great influence of Augustine, who at one time held it.
After this testimony of Prof. Harnack it scarcely seems necessary to cite other witnesses. He says of the the early faith in the nearness of Christ’s second advent, and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth, “it might be questioned whether it ought not to be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion,” and “it was associated—to all appearance inseparably associated—with the gospel itself.” He would make no such statement unless compelled to do so by the facts, and no man will dispute his authority.
Neander, referring to the faith of the early Christians that the Church would come forth triumphant out of its conflicts, says, “They could at first, as we have before remarked, conceive of it no otherwise than this, that the struggle between the Church and the Pagan state would endure till the triumph brought about from without, by the return of Christ to Judgment,” vol. i., p. 650.
Mosheim, referring to the controversies in the time of Origen, says, “Long before this period an opinion had prevailed that Christ was to come and reign a thousand years among men, before the entire and final dissolution of this world. This opinion, which had hitherto met with no. opposition,” &c., vol. i., p. 89.
Hagenbach, says, “The disciples of Christ, having received from their Master the promise of His second coming (parousia), the first Christians looked upon this event as near at hand, in connection with the general resurrection of the dead and the final Judgment.
Dorner says, as quoted in Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines, “The Christian hope in the Christ that was to come grew out of faith in the Christ who had already come,” and adds, “Justin, writing in the time of Papis, says that it was the general faith of all orthodox Christians, and that only Gnostics did not share it.”
Giesler, also quoted by Hagenbach, says of the first two centuries, “In all the works of this period millennartanism is so prominent, we cannot hesitate to consider it as universal in an age when such sensuous motives were certainly not unnecessary to animate men to suffer for Christianity,” vol. i., p. 215. ‘
Dr. Schaff says, in his History of the Christian Church, ‘The most striking point in the eschatology of the ancient Church is the widely current and very prevalent chiliasm, or the doctrine of a visible reign of Christ in glory on the earth with the risen saints for a thousand years,” vol. i, p. 299.:
Bishop Renshaw says, “The commonly received opinion of a spiritual millennium, consisting in a universal triumph of the gospel, and the conversion of all nations for a thousand years before the coming of Christ, is a novel doctrine, unknown to the Church for the space of sixteen hundred years.”
Prof. Fisher, in The Beginnings of Christianity, says, “We call attention to the hopes and expectations of the apostles respecting the second advent of Christ, as they are disclosed in the New Testament writings . . . This expectation is expressed by all apostles in terms which fairly admit of no other interpretation. It is found in Paul (Rom. xiii. 11, 12; 1 Cor. vii. 29, 313 x. 11; Phil. iv. 5; 1 Tim. vi. 14). . . . The same expectation is expressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. x. 25, 37); in the Epistle of James (v. 3, 8), in the Epistles of Peter (1 Peter iv. 7; 2 Peter iii. 3); in the Epistle of Jude (verse 8); in the first Epistle of John (ii, 16); and in the Apocalypse (i. 1; iii, 2; xxii. 7, 12, 20). To put any other construction on these passages, as if the Parousia to which they refer, were anything else than the second advent of the Lord to Judgment, would introduce a dangerous license in interpretation, and one which might be employed to subvert the principal doctrines of the Christian system.
But surely it is useless to quote further. If anything can be established by human testimony, it is the fact that those who are looking for the personal coming of the Lord, not for the conversion of the world by the Church, are in sympathy with the belief and teaching of the apostles and early Christians. No one probably would be bold enough to deny that such was the faith of the disciples, who were considered “Orthodox,” for three hundred years, a period that has never been equalled in the endurance of suffering for Christ’s sake, and in the activity of missionary zeal.
Coming to a later period, we find Prof. Briggs, utterly and fatally wrong about the word of God, but able and scholarly, instructing the Presbyterians with regard to the doctrine of their Confession of Faith.
But as many are consciously or unconsciously influenced by the prevailing sentiment about them, it may be well to name some prominent men who are prominent pre-millennialists, although one who is not brave and independent enough to do his own thinking, apart from the prevailing sentiment of the time and country in which he lives, is hardly worth the trouble to help him into the light. He will be of little account, no matter on which side he at last elects to cast his lot. It was considered an unanswerable argument by the Pharisees, when Christ came the first time, to ask, “Have any of the rulers of the Pharisees believed on Him?” John vii. 48. So several post-millennialists have recently asked concerning His second coming, either in stupid ignorance or wilful prevarication, and it is of importance to show that the pre-millennialists are not wanting in scholars, expositors, and preachers of the finest ability, as the world would say.
A brother, who is thoroughly familiar with modern German literature, asserts that “there is scarcely an expositor of any note on the Continent of Europe who is not an avowed pre-millennialist,” and adds, “Let us rejoice that the best criticism, and Biblical as well as ecclesiastical and theological scholars such as Van Oosterzee, Christlieb, Volck, Martensen, Weiss, Philippi, Koch, Grau, Olshausen, Christiani, Godet, have put post-millennialism and figurativism under their feet.” He follows this with a long list of names as Bengel, Roos, Crusius, Hofman, Delitzseh, Auberlen, Lange, Luthardt, Koslin, Stier, DaCosta, Cappadose, Gaussen and many others, eminent for their learning, who utterly reject the post-millennial heresy, and maintain the pre-millennial coming of our Lord. This is sometimes called the “continental view,” but no matter whether it is continental or insular so it is the truth of God.
In Great Britain we have such expositors as Alford, Ellicott, Fausset, Tregelles, Greswell, the Bishop of Liverpool; such preachers as C. H. Spurgeon, H. Grattan Guinness, Archibald Brown, Frank White, Henry Varley, Baptists; Dr. Horatius Bonar, Dr. Andrew Bonar, Dr. W. P. Mackay, Dr. Adolph Saphir, Dr. Sinclair Patterson, Dr. Donald Fraser, John Wilkinson, Presbyterians; Rev. Prebendary Auriol, Very Rev. Dean Fremantle, Rev. Marcus Rainsford, Rev. Canon Hoare, Rev. H. E. Brooke, Rev. H. W. Webb-Peploe, Rey. C. Skrine, Rev. C. J. Goodhart, Rev. Burlington Wale, Rev. J. Stevenson, Church of England; the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Earl of Cavan, Lord Radstock, Sir Arthur Blackwood, to say nothing of the entire number of “Brethren” like J. N. Darby, William Kelly, C. H. M‘Intosh, William Lincoln, J. Denham Smith, J. Hudson Taylor, T. Shuldham Henry, B. W. Newton, I. B. Baines, Arthur Pridham, embracing some of the most thorough scholars and. some of the profoundest students of the Bible in the world. All of these, and scores of others who might be named have spoken and written much in defence of our Lord’s pre-millennial coming.
In the United States it is sufficient to remind the reader that a pre-millennial conference was recently held in Brooklyn, called by one hundred and fifty Baptist ministers. Or it may be sufficient to mention the names of some who spoke at the pre-millennial conferences in New York and Chicago, or expressed hearty sympathy with the doctrine. Bishop Vail of Kansas, Bishop Baldwin of Canada, Bishop Nicholson of Philadelphia, Dr. S. H. Tyng, Dr. L. W. Bancroft, Dr. R. Newton, Dr. J. F. Grammer, Episcopal; Prof. J. D. Cooper, Prof. D. C. Marquis, Prof. W. G. Moorehead, Prof. J. T. Duffield, Prof. S. H. Kellogg, Dr. N. West, Dr. E. R. Craven, Dr. H. M. Parsons, Dr. William Dinwiddle, Dr. W. Erdman, Dr. Albert Erdman, Dr. J. F. Kendall, Dr. C. K. Imbrie, Dr. A. T. Pierson, Presbyterian; Prof. H. Lummis, Prof. E. F. Stroeter, Dr. James S. Kennedy, Wm. E. Blackstone, Methodist; Dr. A. J. Gordon, Dr. A. J. Frost, Dr. F. L. Chapell, Dr. H. M. Saunders, Robert Cameron, Baptist; Dr. E. P. Goodwin, Dr. H. D. Burton, Dr. Geo. F. Pentecost, Congregational; Dr. W. P. Gordon, Dr. Geo. S. Bishop, Dr. Rufus W. Clark, Reformed Dutch; Dr. Joseph A. Seiss, Dr. Geo. N. H. Peters, Lutherans; Moody, Munhall, Needham, Whittle, Evangelists; while hundreds more could be mentioned, if necessary.
It is a great mistake to suppose that pre-millenists are but an insignificant company of cranks. They may be cranks, and it is well that they are in these days of infidelity among the professors and preachers, but they are loyal to our Lord Jesus Christ, and true to His Word. There are thousands and tens of thousands of them in Europe and America, including the first men of the Church in intellectual endowments, scholastic attainments, fervent piety, faithful service, and intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures. Indeed it is the study of the Scriptures which has led to such a remarkable revival of the old and true faith in the pre-millennial coming of our Lord. Just as this is written a letter is received from a pastor in North Dakota, who says, “For some time it bas been my purpose to procure a lot of suitable books, and investigate the subject of the second advent of Christ. But, my dear brother, I had the book I needed at hand. It was the BIBLE. Taking that as ‘the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined,’ I went at it with an honest desire to know the truth, Need I say more? You know where such work must end.”
Pre-millennialists, however misrepresented or misunderstood can always sing the song of Moses, when brought to face those who reject the truth; “Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges,” Deut. xxxii. 31. By far the ablest book that has ever appeared against the truth was written by Dr. David Brown, already frequently mentioned in these pages. Toa pre-millennialist the admissions he makes are very remarkable from his standpoint, and would have been all that can be demanded, if he had not spoiled them by contradictory statements.
He tells us “there are certain minds which, either from constitutional temperament, or the particular school of theology to which they are attached, have tendencies in the direction of pre-millennialism so strong. that they are ready to embrace it almost immediately con amore.” But what sort of minds are they? Cranky, curious, credulous? Nay, verily.
One would think it well to be found in the first of those two companies, not in the second, especially since Dr. Brown assures us that we should never be satisfied with anything less than the personal coming of our Lord.
But let it not be imagined that the truth, although supported by divine authority and sustained by human authority, will prevail “till He come.” Only a line of witnesses to the blessed hope will be kept up, and this is all. The apostasy has set in, and has come to stay. Of course God could revive His “work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy,” and if it please the Lord still to tarry, this He must do or “all will come to desolation.” Quite a number of godly men, who are post-millennialists, clearly see and deeply deplore the wretched condition of the professing Christian body, and frankly confess that the extraordinary manifestation of divine grace and power is absolutely necessary to save from impending ruin, and to call the Church back to the gospel. But the probability is very great that we are hemmed in by the perils of the last days, and hence the witnesses can do nothing more in the midnight darkness than to cry, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh,” Matt. xxv. 6.