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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    IV. New Developments Abandon Historic Premillennialism

    By the time the 1843-1847 time of expectation arrived, the peak of the original movement had passed in Britain, and the eyes of the Literalists were already turned toward 1867. The old positions had begun to be abandoned. There was a distinct trend away from the old landmarks of Historical interpretation, and in favor of a new system of Futurism and dispensationalism. However, the beginnings of the British dispensationalism had no noticeable effect on the American scene around 1840, and the Futurist elements seemed to be accepted very slowly. Here the issue between the Literalists and other premillennialists was over the Judaistic aspect of the millennial kingdom.PFF4 421.2


    The beginnings of this new departure are significant. There were numerous prophetic conferences and prophetic societies in the British Advent Awakening in the third and fourth decades of the early nineteenth century. It was at some of these conferences that a new Futurist system of interpretation began to be formulated-with a pretribulationism, a secret “rapture,” the “gap” theory, dispensationalism, and the like. Out of the Albury Park Conferences (1826-1830) came three volumes of Dialogues on Prophecy, in which opinions were expressed that implied a “rapture” before the tribulation, also hints of a prophetic “week” at the end of the age, although neither was definitely expressed as a full-fledged doctrine. 21Henry Drummond, Edward Irving, and others, Dialogues on Prophecy, vol. 2, pp. 22-28 (rapture); vol. 2, pp. 49, 50, 61 (one week); on a future Antichrist, see vol. 2, p. 42. On the conferences, see Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, pp. 449-454. And Edward Irving was one of the major participants at the Albury Conferences.PFF4 421.3

    The general tone of the Dialogues, however, was definitely Historicist, although Drummond remarks that they should not overlook Maitland’s and Ben Ezra’s (Lacunza’s) teaching that the larger part of the Apocalypse is still to be fulfilled in the future. 22Henry Drummond, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 377. That this did not represent the united opinion of the group is shown not only by the way the suggestion is made but also by the direct opposition of Cuninghame, in 1832, to Irving’s idea of a future literal fulfillment of the various prophecies that had already had a past “symbolic” accomplishment. 23William Cuninghame, A Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse, 3rd ed., pp. xxix, xxxii, xxxiii. However, many of the approximately forty men who attended the Albury Conferences followed the lead of Irving and Drummond into “Irvingism,” and subsequently Albury become a center of the Irvingite group, with The Morning watch as practically an Irvingite journal. (Edward Miller, The History and Doctrines of Irvingism, vol. 2, p. 265. On The Morning Watch, see Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, p. 501.)PFF4 422.1

    It was in the conferences held at Powerscourt Castle 24See Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, pp. 584, 585. in Ireland (1830 and onward) that a new theory was formulated which laid the foundation for a whole new system of belief. This was based on the “rapture” of the church-as referring to the resurrected and living saints being “caught up” to meet the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17)-placed before the final tribulation, leaving the rest of the world’s populace to go through a literal 3i/L years of persecution by a future personal Antichrist, before the destruction of that tyrant by the glorious appearance of Christ.PFF4 422.2

    Whether or not Tregelles is correct in deriving this teaching from the “utterances” of the Irvingite “unknown tongues”—the source from which Irving himself received both the pre-tribulation rapture and Futurism-it is certain that from the time of the Powerscourt Conferences, some of which he attended, the doctrine began to be propagated. 25Samuel P. Tregelles, the hope of christs second Coming, p. 35, quoted in George L. Murray, Millennial Studies, p. 138. Such a view was definitly a change, because earlier he had placed the destruction of Antichrist before the first resurrection. (Irving, Lectures on the Revelation, vol. 1, pp. 80, 81.) William Cuninghame, who accepted the pretribulation rapture (not secret, however) about this time-although opposing Irving’s Futurism-cites Mede, 26William Cuninghame, of. cit., pp. 461n, 48-482, 496n. Joseph Mede, Works, book 4, epistle 22, pp. 775, 776. (For this he cites “Gemara Abodah Zarah, c. 1.”) who derived the rapture from a Jewish tradition.PFF4 422.3


    The stigma of heresy resting on Irvingism would have hindered propagation of these ideas among premillennialists in general, but some of the extreme Literalists expanded, systematized, and gave currency to these prophetic views. Thus we find introduced a double second advent completely unknown to the early church, a pretribulation rapture that stems back to Jewish tradition and from Irvingite revelations, and a Futurism traceable to the same revelations, and from the Jesuits Ribera and Lacunza, along with Maitland, the Protestant defender of Rome. Surely these Protestant proponents must not have realized the antecedents of these doctrines.PFF4 423.1

    The prophetic views transmitted by these Futurist Literalists include a preliminary coming of Christ, regarded by many as secret, to raise and transform the redeemed before the awakening of Israel; next, the tribulation under Antichrist; then the visible advent to destroy Antichrist and his hosts and to establish the millennial kingdom on earth. In this kingdom, as most Historicist premillennialists also believed, the Jews, converted to Christ, are to set up their kingdom at Jerusalem, and the survivors of the nations come up to take part in the restored Temple services. Thus sin is repressed under the rule of Christ.PFF4 423.2

    But these Jews and Gentiles are not glorified beings, and their relation to the redeemed who reign with Christ is not clear in the varying opinions. However, at the end of the millennium Satan is unbound and leads the nations in rebellion. Then comes the destruction of the rebellious hosts by fire, the final judgment, and eternity. In all this Hamilton remarks pointedly, in summarizing these beliefs, “there is a great difference” between this and historic premillennialism. 27Floyd E. Hamilton, op cit., p. 23.PFF4 423.3


    It is also interesting to note that the Protestant Literalists and the Rome-ward Oxford movement both adopted Maitland’s Protestant Futurism. Both arose as reactions toward a return to the early church, as a protest against rationalism, and as a yearning for authoritarian Christianity. But the one turned to the Bible, and the other to the Roman Catholic Church. There was no similarity between them, except that both adopted features of the early church from a period when the early corruptions had already begun to develop. And the Oxford, or Tractarian, movement returned to the stage of Christianity that was already developing the evils of the medieval church.PFF4 424.1

    Similarly, the Protestant Futurists returned to the chiliasm of a type that contained elements from non-Christian sources, such as the despotic tyrant—Antichrist of ancient Jewish tradition, and they carried the early church idea of the literal kingdom on earth to an extreme, and in a direction different from anything the early church dreamed of—a kingdom of the Jews in the flesh, separate from the Christian church.PFF4 424.2


    The early church prophetic interpretation centered in two things: an Historicist view of prophecy and a supernaturalistic pre-millennialism in which the kingdom of God is given to the saints of the Most High—the saved of all the ages—at the glorious second advent. Their apparent Futurism was an error progressively corrected by fulfillment. Unfortunately, this extreme Literalist premillennialism returned to the minor elements of the early church interpretation—Futurism now wrenched out of context—and Literalism of a Judaistic type never thought of in the early centuries.PFF4 424.3

    This Protestant Futurism in its ultimate development came to relegate the major part of the book of Revelation, and many other prophecies of the Old Testament, and even the Gospels, to the time after the second coming of Christ, the “rapture” of the saints, the world dominion of a Jewish Antichrist, and the great tribulation, the visible coming of Christ, and the establishment of the millennial reign. It is to be noted that all these events are expected to come only after the end of the Christian Era; that is, only after the first resurrection will Antichrist, the Beast, and the false prophet develop and exist for a period of literal, not figurative, prophetic time.PFF4 424.4

    This is full-fledged Futurism, but such was not the belief of the early church. And the early Christians cannot justly beclaimed as Futurists. They did not anticipate the expiration of a long church era before the beginning of these fulfillments. They saw most of the prophecies as future because, as has been remarked, “in their days so little history had as yet come to pass in fulfilment of the Apocalypse.” They were simply adherents of a continuous-historical approach. 28D. H. Kromjninga, op. dt., pp. 333-335, 252, 253.PFF4 425.1

    Neither were the early Christians looking for any Jewish kingdom during the millennium. They regarded, as Paul taught, the whole church, Jews and Gentiles, as the true Israel. And the millennial reign they clearly applied to the true Israel. They never believed in any special status for the Jewish race as such, separate from the Christian church. Such a view was one of the new developments of British premillennialism.PFF4 425.2


    Most of the British Literalists of the early nineteenth century were Historicists, as seen in Prophetic Faith, Volume III, Part II. They applied the year-day principle to the age-long apostasy as the Beast, Antichrist, et cetera. But as some of them adopted Futurist elements, on which most expositors differed in details, the main lines were drawn between the older Historicism and the new Futurism, between the pretribulationists and the post-tribulationists. At first the pretribulationist view was taken up by some who rejected the Protestant Futurism (as Cuninghame, for example, in 1832). Others rejected both. Emphasis on the part played by the Jews also varied. Although nearly all gave the Jews precedence in the millennial kingdom, some insisted that the children of Abraham embrace all the saved, both Jew and Gentile—for example, J. W. Brooks, and even B. W. Newton among the Plymouth Brethren. 29J. W. Brooks, Essays on the Advent and Kingdom of Christ, reprinted in The Literalist, p. 53; on Newton, see Ironside, op. cit., p. 32. Begg was not a pre-tribulationist in his 1831 edition. 30J. A. Begg, Connected View, p. 194. Other Literalists, as Noel, Woodward, and Cox, 31Thus John Cox. (Thoughts on the Coming and Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. vii, note) has “objections against the system which would overturn the Protestant interpretation of Scripture with reference to popery, represent the Apocalypse as all unfulfilled, and literalize its symbolic language.” held to the older view, and some were vague or uncertain, such as Bickersteth and Brooks. 32J. W. Brooks, op, cit., pp. 81, 82. Edward Bickersteth, A Practical Guide to the Prophecies, pp. 143, 161, 163.PFF4 425.3

    These varying views came to be reflected in America as the British Literalist works were reprinted and read here. Most American premillennialists, like the earlier British Literalists, for some years remained strongly Historicist. Winthrop, though Historicist, adopted pretribulationism, declining, however, to be dogmatic. He cites Cuninghame and Bickersteth, and quotes Cuninghame’s third edition at length for the twofold coming—the rapture and the later appearing. 33Edward Winthrop, Lectures on the Second Advent of Messiah, pp. 90, 91, 151n, 163, 164. He remarks on the discussion of this doctrine in the 1842 issues of The American Millenarian. Thus we see how these new ideas” 34For a discussion of the origin and development of the new ideas, see Appendix C. took root in America also, although they did not actually spread to any extent until later. It was chiefly the Judaistic nature of the millennial kingdom on earth that was to draw the line between the Literalists and the Millerites in the 1840’s; Historicism was not the primary issue. That is why in the early 1840’s the Millerites could regard Literalists, on the whole, as brethren and colleagues in the fight against the “spiritualizing” interpretations of the postmillennialists.PFF4 426.1

    We are now ready for the story of the Millerite movement.PFF4 426.2

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