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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
A. J. Gordon, D. D. (1836-1895)
The orthodoxy of one age has not infrequently become the heterodoxy of another age. Of nothing is this saying more strikingly true than of the doctrine of our Lord’s second personal coming. Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, states the doctrine of the millennial reign of Christ on earth subsequent to the first resurrection, and declares this to be the view of himself and "as many Christians as are right-minded in all things;" in the same paragraph adding that those who deny this doctrine, though "Christians by name, are in reality atheistical and impious heretics."
Whether Justin in this statement reflected the orthodox view of his age we will not affirm, leaving patristic scholars to settle that point. It is enough to remember that so eminent a Church historian as Prof. Harnack of Berlin, in summing up the testimony of the early fathers upon this question, gives this as his candid conclusion: "The claims of Millenarianism are sufficiently met by the acknowledgment that in former times it was associated – to all appearances inseparable associated – with the Gospel itself."
And yet such has been the change of opinion, from the second century to the nineteenth century, that in our own day disciples have sometimes been excluded from our churches for holding the very view which Justin Martyr made a test of orthodoxy. Happily we may believe that a more tolerant sentiment towards this doctrine prevails among us at present; but unhappily there is a widespread misapprehension as to the primitive and orthodox standing of the reviving belief.
With only this too brief reference to the primitive historical claims of this doctrine, we refer in a word to the verdict of exegesis.
Prof. Kendrick mentions four names as defenders of Pre-Millennialism, but he could have added those of Bengel and Delitzch, and Lange and Stier, and Godet and Volek, and Bleek and Gebhardt, and Kleifoth and Van Oosterzee, and Martensen and Ewald, and Rothe and Luthardt, and Auberlen and Christlieb, and Koch and Gehler, and Weiss and Schultze, and Hofman and Christiani, and Ebrard and Pfleiderer, and Tregelles and Ellicott, and Faussett and Ryle, and so many others that we have not room to name them.
The weight of learned opinion is now so preponderating in favor of this doctrine, that here we may almost apply the word consensus. And not only scholars. The significant and concurrent fact is, that what is the doctrine of scholars has likewise come to be the faith of the practical evangelist of our day – Moody and Varley and Whittle, the four Needhams, and Munhall and Chubbuck, and Pratt and Pentecost, who draw their teachings directly from the Bible, unbiased by the verdict of critical scholarship. These, with a great company of foreign missionaries, who are bold confessors of "the Blessed Hope," constitute the evangelistic wing of this great new reaction in eschatology.
John Bunyan’s Millenarianism is well known and generally conceded, he maintaining the early patristic view that the seventh millennium will be the Sabbath of the world to be ushered in by the Advent of Christ. One of Bunyan’s contemporaries – Benjamin Keach, an illustrious predecessor of Spurgeon in the pastorate, has left a very full confession of his views on this point.
He was brought to trial Oct. 8, 1664, on the two charges of Anabaptism and Millenarianism. As he stood there before the Lord Chief-Justice Hyde, the representative of State-Church it was charged that he held "that the saints shall reign with Christ a thousand years." The judge pronounced this "an old heresy which was cast out of the Church a thousand years ago, and was likewise condemned by the Council of Constance five hundred years after, and hath lain dead ever since, till now this rascal hath revived it." Nevertheless, the stalwart Baptist preacher firmly defended his view, bringing out clearly the doctrine of the first resurrection, followed by the Millennium and the reign of the saints, with Christ, and as the result he was condemned and sent to the pillory.
The Martyr Faith
Dr. John Gill, the commentator and theologian has drawn out the Pre-Millennial scheme more fully and set forth the Scriptural arguments for it more cogently, perhaps, than any Baptist writer who has treated the subject. For a full statement of his views, we must refer the reader to his Body of Divinity and his Commentary on Revelation. Couple his testimony with that of Charles H. Spurgeon, who said, in a recent sermon, that there can be no Millennium without the presence of the visible Christ, "any more than there can be summer without the sun."
Hear Roger Williams’ unequivocal utterance on the personal and imminent Advent of our Lord: "It is the council of God," he says, "that Jesus Christ shall shortly appear, a most glorious Judge and Revenger against all his enemies, while the heavens and the earth shall flee before his most glorious presence." But what did Roger Williams believe as to the conditions of things on earth at Christ’s appearing? Did he hold to that "from time immemorial" Baptist doctrine, the conversion of the world previous to the second Advent? Listen to him again. "The Lord will come when an evil world is ripe in sin, and Anti-Christianism; will come suddenly, and then will he melt the earth with fire and make it new. Till then I wait and hope."
I think we must conclude from these quotations that Millenarianism was the martyr faith of our denomination, even though it may not be the modern faith. The fact is, that this primitive doctrine of the Church has always tended to reappear with a fresh planting of the Gospel, and in a revival of spiritual religion. It is just as true that when the Church has entered upon a career of worldly prosperity, the tendency has been to repudiate this apostolic faith as antiquated, pessimistic, and out of joint with the times.
It is not putting it too strongly to affirm, with a thoughtful theologian, that this hope is made "the key note of all the warnings and admonitions and exhortations of the Scripture." Is it made so in the preaching of our modern ministry?
On the contrary, has not the doctrine fallen into such neglect that hundreds of Christians have to acknowledge that they have sat for years under an evangelical ministry without ever having heard a sermon on this theme? How many well-instructed, orthodox Christians have confessed their surprise in hearing us speak of the subject, saying that they never knew before that the Second Coming meant anything else but death!
I will ask you to listen for a moment on this point to the most eminent living Baptist preacher, like Daniel, "a man greatly beloved." In his last address to the alumni of his Pastor’s College, C. H. Spurgeon said:
"Once more, dear friends, our relation and position to our Lord is that of waiting for His coming. I do not know how far most of you are warmly affected toward the blessed truth of the Second Advent; but I trust that many of you believe it and are enlivened by faith in it. This great hope is gaining ground among lovers of evangelical doctrine. Our Lord may come right soon; certain signs raise our hopes very high. Let us take courage, and be of good heart; for while we lift Christ on high, and glorify His name, He is on the way to take up the quarrel of His covenant, and rout His foes." (The Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times, June 3, 1891, p.343).