Skip to main content

Full text of "The Religious Appeal of Premillennialism"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 


New York City 

Millenarianism is a doctrine which attempts to premise 
the Kingdom of God on earth. It exercises a fascinating 
interest over the minds of those who accept it. Its religious 
appeal grows out of the fact that it presents a clear, concrete, 
and comprehensive program of the purposes of God respecting 
the past, present, and future; it enlists the imagination, stirs 
the emotions, and challenges the disciple to co-operate with 
this program of the divine will. To appreciate its religious 
appeal one must have some understanding of what may be 
called the philosophy of millenarianism. As a doctrine, it 
is not a vague, mystic hope, but a definite scheme of historic 
unfoldings. There are many Christians who read the Bible 
in a disjointed fashion and associate the "Return of the 
Lord" with hazy notions of the end of the world. They 
believe that Jesus will come again in bodily form to judge the 
living and the dead and assign them to their respective 
destinies. They may even regard this event as impending 
and be numbered with millenarians; but they are such only 
in a nebulous and ambiguous way. Real millenarians hold 
a distinctive philosophy which is only apprehended by those 
who "rightly divide the word of truth" — a cardinal Scripture 
text with them. 

In this dissection and recollocation of the Scriptures, 
certain dispensations are sharply differentiated from one 
another. Each dispensation is a distinctive regime in which 
God is dealing with the human race according to some peculiar 



principle. In a general way these dispensations are as follows : 
First, the Edenic. Man was in a garden and innocent. He 
was tried under one prohibitory law, forbidding him the fruit 
of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Failing under the 
test, man was banished from this primitive paradise, but not 
until God had promised a "seed of the woman" which should 
bruise the serpent's head. All the subsequent unfoldments 
have been and are the issue of this promise. The closing of 
the garden under the guard of the cherubim ended the first 

Second, came the antediluvian world. The righteous 
seed, represented by Abel, Seth, Enoch, and others, was 
persecuted by Cain and his progeny who filled the earth with 
violence. The judgment of the flood swept the earth clean 
once more and gave the race a new start. 

Third, we have a new world under patriarchal rule. The 
fathers are the priests in their families. Abraham is called 
to walk by faith and becomes the "Friend of God." His 
family is chosen to become an elect people. His seed is to be 
innumerable and inherit the world. New covenants are 
established between God and Abraham's children. Jacob 
becomes a "Prince of God," but his sons fail in their conduct 
toward Joseph, and they are brought to Egypt. The dispensa- 
tion ends with Israel as slaves in the brickyards and the 
Patriarchs in their coffins. 

Fourth, we have the Mosaic or legal dispensation. Moses 
achieves the emancipation of the chosen people and on Mount 
Sinai receives the decalogue, or covenant of the law. Israel's 
tenure of the promised land and the blessings of Jehovah are 
conditioned upon obedience to the statutes. Here there arise 
the prophets who announce the divine will, herald the "Day 
of the Lord" and the coming of the Messiah. But again the 
people fail, and are sold into bondage and become vassals to 
successive conquerors. These four distinctive periods are 
covered by the Old Testament Scriptures. Man proves a 


failure in every dispensation. But God is not taken by 
surprise. He foreknows that man will continually fail and 
brings on a series of successions, changing the stage, in order 
to prove man a sinner and himself a God and Savior under 
any and all circumstances. The scenery ever changes, but 
the play is the same, viz., the tragedy of human sin and 
helplessness. Against this background God will demonstrate 
his faithfulness in the fulfilment of his promises, and manifest 
his glory in the sovereign establishment of his covenants. 

Fifth, there comes the messianic dispensation, which reaches 
from the manger to the Cross. The Son of God, the seed of 
David, Abraham, and the woman, is in the world. Jesus 
offers himself to the nation as its Messiah and King. He 
fulfils certain characteristics predicted in the writings of 
Moses, the Psalms, and Prophets. But the people are blind 
and know not "the day of their visitation." They crucify 
the Son of God, the Prince of Glory, and push away the 
millennial kingdom. The disciples ask Jesus concerning this 
kingdom and he indicates that it is to be postponed. He 
vanishes behind a cloud and another regime passes away. 

Sixth, we come to the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. 
We must be quite clear as to the sharp distinction between 
the purposes of God with respect to this age in which we now 
live, and the millennium which is immediately to follow. 
Here is the very crux of the millennial hope and passion. 
The expectation of Israel had been that the Jew and the Gentile 
would ever remain distinct. In the "acceptable year of the 
Lord," Israel is to be a crown of glory in the hands of Jehovah 
and the head of all nations of the earth. But now, under the 
dispensation of the Holy Spirit, a new purpose, not known in 
other ages, comes over the horizon. The Holy Spirit has 
broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and 
Gentile and is making an election out of every nation, kindred, 
tribe, and tongue of those who own Christ as a Savior. This 
new spiritual body is known as "the Church of God." 


We cannot overemphasize the importance of recognizing, 
that from the millenarian point of view, God is not purposing 
to convert the world in this dispensation. He has not changed 
the nature of the kingdom from an outward manifestation of 
his glory, to a spiritual and gradual conquest of the earth. 
He is making an election; and the one business of the church 
is to preach the gospel and fulfil the chosen number. The 
true millenarian knows that he has no business trying to 
clean up the Augean stables of the world. Like every previous 
dispensation, this one also will end in judgment. Evil will 
increase with accelerated speed and power, and culminate in 
the advent of the antichrist. During his regime, apostasy 
and atheism will be rampant and bring on the "great tribula- 
tion." All this becomes the background of the millenarian's 
hope — the epiphany of the Lord who will overthrow antichrist 
and initiate his kingdom on earth. 

Seventh, comes the millennial reign of Christ. The 
cardinal event ushering in that age will be the Second Coming 
of Christ. That is the goal of the present age and becomes 
the hope of the church. Just what the characteristics of the 
millennium will be, or what details may focus in the imagina- 
tion, need not detain us. It is the hope and prospect of that 
triumphant coming of Christ which creates a religious appeal 
for the millenarian. It must be apparent that to those who 
sincerely accept this outworking of such a divine program the 
premillennial coming of the Lord must be aflame with appeal 
and enthusiasm. Of course I have in mind those to whom 
this hope is a vital reality and not an academic question. 
For here as everywhere, it is possible to accept some 
a priori assumptions and then rationalize certain academic 
conclusions. Any interest thus derived is only an intellectual 
fancy and not religious passion. But for one who holds the 
hope as a vital certainty it is a living hope, stimulating 
personal virtue, inspiring evangelistic zeal and missionary 
enterprise. The religious appeal grows out of indirect con- 


firmations of the faith, and direct urgings to holy living and 
diligent work. 

For the devout millenarian the Bible is the inspired, 
inerrant word of God. He is unconcerned about its historic 
backgrounds, the study of which he regards with suspicion, and 
he is indifferent to the many discrepancies found within the 
book itself. To him it is a divine book, above human wisdom, 
and sometimes too profound for human understanding. 
Hence he can dismiss these infelicitous difficulties without 
impairing his faith. The Bible is a revelation in which are 
unfolded the maturing purposes of God. It is not the result 
of man feeling after God. He only gropes in blindness, 
touches the torso of a stone, and calls it God. God knows 
the end from the beginning and it is plainly written in the 
word. The promises and prophecies can never fail. They 
may be drawn out, postponed, or discover larger horizons, 
but "the Scriptures cannot be broken." They are the source 
of all light, the one and final canon of appeal concerning all 
matters of faith, hope, duty, and destiny. They never abro- 
gate the promise of the kingdom but with growing emphasis 
confirm it. According to both the Old Testament and the 
New Testament, that kingdom is to be ushered in and estab- 
lished by the returning Lord. This canon of authority has a 
deep religious value for the believer in that it certifies his 
hopes and keeps his anchors from dragging amid all the vagrant 
currents of speculation, criticism, doubt, and agnosticism. 
All things can be referred to the law and the testimony. 

Since the Bible is the word of God, inspired by the one and 
selfsame Spirit, it is equally trustworthy in every part; and 
all the passages that can be allocated around this subject can 
be used to formulate a doctrine. It can be shown that Jesus 
spoke of his return; that his apostles wrote clearly concerning 
his imminent and speedy coming, and that the early church 
expected his sudden advent for their redemption and glory. 
Later and modern disciples have not been privileged to see 


Jesus in the flesh, but like Paul, they know him in spirit and 
can affirm, "Whom having not seen I love." Love craves to 
see the object of its affection and longs to see him that is 
altogether lovely. When any loved one is expected home, 
the passing hours are fraught with interest and preparation. 
So the heart that "loves his appearing" turns longingly 
toward the day. It rejoices in the tokens of his favor, but 
more earnestly desires the presence of the lover himself. 

The bride eyes not her garments, 

But her dear Bridegroom's face; 
I will not gaze on glory, 

But on my king of grace. 

The desire for the speedy advent of Jesus is deepened into 
a consuming passion when it is conceived as the one great 
event in which all the comforting and triumphant issues of 
the gospel are converged. In a moment, in the twinkling 
of an eye, the mortal life will be swallowed up in immortality. 
The generation that remains to his coming will, like Elijah, 
outride the grasp of death and cheat the grave of its spoil. 
The dead in Christ, who bivouac in God's acre, will hear the 
sounding of the reveille and rise every man in his regiment and 
join the triumphal procession. The painful struggle with 
temptation may tomorrow be swallowed up in conquest. 
The laborious effort to be decent and imitate Christ will 
instantly be changed and the Christ image flash forth in an 
abiding transfiguration. All the long-drawn hopes of the ages 
will be realized and the far-off interest of tears and sorrows be 
gathered. All that heaven has meant to the imagination and 
affections will become an immediate possession. 

The Lord shall come to be admired in all his saints. The 
judgments of the Lord will have fallen upon all ungodly souls 
and unrighteous acts and the Christian's faith, hope, and 
patience will be vindicated before an assembled universe. 
Every disciple who kept his face toward the morning and 
watched in faith; every missionary who stood on the far-flung 


battle line of service; every martyr that perished amid fire 
and persecution; and all the dear and holy dead who fell 
asleep in Christ will be gathered about the glorified Lord. 
Then will the Cross prove to be the foundation of the throne; 
the crown of thorns exchanged for the diadem; the reed laid 
aside for the scepter of universal authority. Then will the 
eternal God say to his Son the Savior, "Thy throne O God is 
forever and ever." No reverent soul can honestly contemplate 
such an imminent denouement of the present crisis without 
feeling a burning heart and realizing a strong religious appeal. 

This appeal is emphasized in the divine urge which this 
expectation lays upon believers. Millenarians insist, and 
rightly so, that in the Scriptures every admonition to fidelity 
and every stressing of duty is linked up with the thought of 
his imminent appearing. They can cite verse after verse in 
proof thereof. This is just the logic of the position. Who 
would not wish to be at his best, be able to render a good 
account of his stewardship, and be found about the Master's 
business when he comes ? His acceptance with the Lord and 
his position and reward in the kingdom will depend upon his 
loyalty to duty and service while waiting. 

Moreover the crisis of his coming may be hastened by 
faithful co-operation with him. By living soberly, righteously, 
and godly in this present age the watchers are preparing a 
highway for the King. By evangelizing all nations and 
gathering the elect they are making the Bride ready against 
the day of nuptials. For these and other reasons, together 
with many allied associations and interests — the very naming 
of which would carry us far afield— the believer in the pre- 
millennial coming of Christ must experience a strong religious 

So far I have indicated the matrix and nature of the religious 
appeal in millenarianism from the premillennialist's point of 
view. This appeal may become anaemic, vitiated, or may 
completely lapse. The theory gets such strong possession of 


some minds that it cancels the motives of sympathy and 
brotherhood, and becomes harsh and intolerant. Such a 
premillenarian stands on the side lines with the program of 
events in his hands and watches the procession of the divine 
purposes go by. To him it is all so clear that any man who 
sees it in any different form or perspective is blind and working 
at a useless task. He judges his fellow-Christians as disloyal 
and apostate, deluded by Satan, who transforms himself into 
a counterfeit minister of righteousness and an angel of light. He 
becomes critical, censorious, and exclusive until unconsciously 
he develops into a Pharisee and, despite his boasted fidelity, 
the religious motive is vitiated. 

Many who call themselves premillenarians are better than 
their theory. But the thoroughgoing confine the ministry of 
the gospel to a narrow and superficial form of evangelism and 
limit the power of the divine Spirit. They utterly repudiate 
any sympathy or co-operation with a social gospel, mislabel 
any movements outside their type of evangelism, and attribute 
them to blind and malevolent inspirations. The religious 
appeal associated with the hope as held by the earliest 
Christians degenerates into a pharisaic zeal without knowledge. 

Admitting that the early Christians were stimulated by 
the hope of the speedy return of the Lord, were they deceived 
by holding such millennial expectations? Not so! It is at 
least questionable whether the early adherents of this thesis 
held any such definite scheme of events as is held by pre- 
millennialists today. Their theory was an illusion not delusion . 
Delusion is something essentially false, while illusion is a con- 
ception which has at the heart of it something greater than 
the mind can at the moment apprehend. There is something 
in the Kingdom idea which millenarianism symbolized. But 
the reality and fulfilment will be greater than the millenarian 
imagined or thought. The religious appeal of the Kingdom 
has completely shifted its ground. 

The long period of time which has elapsed and the many 
developments which have taken place since the apostolic days 


do not fit into the primitive conception of the Kingdom. Not 
only the apostles, but every generation after them who 
cherished the hope of his coming in their day, have been dis- 
appointed. To say that it is a corporate hope and that they 
were not disappointed, but will through a resurrection have 
part in the advent is a begging of the question. If the judge 
stood at the door in the days of James, he has been standing 
there a long time. It seems probable that either he changed 
his mind or that they misread the signs. 

The millenarian dream was conceived in minds laboring 
among the limitations of primitive knowledge. The investiga- 
tions and discoveries of science which have changed our con- 
ception concerning the universe, space, and time could not 
but effect a change in this theory. For those who keep in 
step with the modern mind and have any acquaintance with 
modern learning, this doctrine has receded into the perspective 
and lost its outward significance. Where the doctrine has 
faded the religious appeal has completely changed. 

The critical study of the Scriptures and their sources has 
brought into the field of vision the historic backgrounds and 
conditions out of which these Scriptures — including this 
doctrine— have grown. The apocalyptic writings current for 
two centuries B.C., but not included in the canon, threw their 
color if not their forms into Christian thought. In proportion 
to one's acquaintance with the sources of these writings as 
viewed against the background of modern knowledge, is the 
millenarian view completely outgrown. It can only main- 
tain its hold and interest over belated minds which are still 
moving within the horizons of primitive knowledge, and hold 
their hopes by the canons of literal interpretation. For all 
who arrive at any knowledge revealed by science, discovered 
by historic methods and held by the lovers of facts and truth 
in all departments of research, the conceptions of the Kingdom 
of God shift their bases from the doctrine of premillennialism, 
and the religious appeal must be molded by something different 
from that one-time stimulating, but now archaic dream.