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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. Amazing Report of the 1878 Conference

    The conference sessions were first reported in a New York Tribune Extra, No. 46, with a circulation of about fifty thousand copies. Then it was published in a 528-page volume entitled Second Coming of Christ. Pre-Millennial Essays of the Prophetic Conference, Held in the Church of the Holy Trinity, New York City. This was compiled and edited by Dr. Nathaniel West, prominent Presbyterian clergyman of Cincinnati. The Introduction first directs attention to certain works, recently issued in Britain, undermining faith in the historic second, personal, premillennial advent of Christ as the blessed hope. It declares this was the view firmly held in the apostolic age, with the Preterist counterview on prophecy substituted many centuries later, which view asserts the second advent to have been a past occurrence, accomplished through the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Other treatises had strongly backed the still later popular Whitbyan theory of gradual world betterment and the ultimate world conversion of the postmillennial postulate.PFF4 1180.1


    Dr. West then nine points in the Introduction to Canon (later Bishop) JOHN CHARLES RYLE’S Coming Events and Present Duties (1867). These set forth the time-honored premillennial view—no world conversion, the wheat and tares coexistent till the harvest, widespread unbelief, formalism, wickedness, troublous times, grave departures from the faith, and evil men waxing worse and worse—as determining signs of the times, along with the gospel going to the world as a witness. Ryle (1816-1910)—later becoming Bishop of Liverpool—then declares succinctly: “I believe that the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be a real, literal, personal, bodily coming.” 3Ibid., pp. 6, 7. See J. C. Ryle, Coming Events and Present Duties, Preface, p. viii. Ryle was named bishop of Liverpool in 1800.PFF4 1180.2

    Next, West cites Ryle as holding that, upon Christ’s return, the devil will be bound, the godly rewarded, the wicked punished, and the earth renewed. And this Anglican scholar insists that the prophecies had been “far too much neglected by the churches,” at that time, and that “under the mistaken system of spiritualizing and accommodating Bible language, Christians have too often completely missed its meaning.” 4Point 8, Ibid., p. 7. West’s reprint varies slightly from the original English edition. And Ryle’s concluding contention (Point 9) was:PFF4 1181.1

    “I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the Great Predicted Apostacy from the faith and is Babylon and the Pope Antichrist-although I think it highly probable that a more complete development of Antichrist will yet be exhibited to the world.” 5Point 9, Ibid., p. 1. (Original, p. X.) That, of course, is essentially the standard Historical School interpretation that we have been tracing throughout these volumes. Thus West first of all links the American premillennialists with their fellow premillennialists overseas, in the struggle against their common perils and tendencies. He next cites the Resolutions passed by the “large body of ministers” present at the New York Conference, in its closing session, reaffirming belief in the “Pre-Millennial coming of the Lord” as the historic faith of the church, and based on Bible prophecy.PFF4 1181.2

    “I. We affirm our belief in the supreme and absolute authority of the written Word of God on all questions of doctrine and duty.PFF4 1181.3

    “II. The prophetic words of the Old Testament Scriptures, concerning the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, were literally fulfilled in His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension; and so the prophetic words of both the Old and the New Testaments concerning His second coming will be literally fulfilled in His visible bodily return to this earth in like manner as He went up into Heaven; and this glorious Epiphany of the great God, our Saviour Jesus Christ, is the blessed hope of the believer and of the Church during this entire dispensation.PFF4 1181.4

    “III. This second coming of the Lord Jesus is everywhere in the Scriptures represented as imminent, and may occur at any moment; yet the precise day and hour thereof is unknown to man, and known only to God.PFF4 1182.1

    “IV. The Scriptures nowhere teach that the whole world will be converted to God, and that there will be a reign of universal righteousness and peace before the return of our blessed Lord, but that only at and by His coming in power and glory will the prophecies concerning the progress of evil and the development of Antichrist, the times of the Gentiles, and the ingathering of Israel, the resurrection of the dead in Christ, and the transfiguration of His living saints, receive their fulfillment, and the period of millennial blessedness in its inauguration.PFF4 1182.2

    “V. The duty of the Church during the absence of the Bridegroom is to watch and pray, to work and wait, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, and thus hasten the coming of the day of God; and to His last promise, ‘Surely I come quickly,’ to respond, in joyous hope, ‘Even so; come Lord Jesus.’” 6Ibid., p. 8.PFF4 1182.3


    The recorded addresses were by highly trained and well-known ministers and theologians. They analyzed the Bible evidence on Christ’s coming, declaring it to be personal and literal, and not only held by the primitive church, but restated in the declarations of faith of practically all Protestant bodies in their formative periods. The second advent was declared not to have occurred at Pentecost or at the destruction of Jerusalem. Neither was it a spiritual coming, nor the spread of the gospel; nor does it occur at the death of the believer. On the contrary, it is to be conspicuously “personal and visible.”PFF4 1182.4

    Such was the ringing keynote sounded by Dr. STEPHEN H. TYNG, Jr., 7STEPHEN HIOOINSON TYNO, JR., A.D. (1839-1898), after graduating from Williams College and the Episcopalian Theological Seminary of Virginia, was ordained in 1863. He was rector of several churches, then organized the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City. Possessed of a fascinating personality, he was widely loved. He was decidedly evangelical in conviction and emphasis, ever exalting the cause of Christ above ecclesiastical connections. He trained clerical and lay workers, laboring for the poor and outcast, and even inaugurating evangelistic services in a “gospel tent” on a vacant lot. All this subjected him to considerable criticism, and in 1868 he was brought to ecclesiastical trial because he had preached in a Methodist church. This resulted in episcopal admonition, through he was as stoutly defended. He was prominent in the New York City MoodySankey revival of 1875. And his ardent hope of the speedy second coming of Christ-the constant theme of his preaching-caused him in 1878, to inaugurate and carry out the famous Premillennial Conference at his Holy Trinity Church. He wrote He will come (1877), the Church at Work, and edited The People’s Pulpit, 1874-79. he degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him in 1872 by Williams College.rector of the large Episcopalian church in which this notable session was held. 8S. H. Tyng, Jr. “Christ’s Coming: Personal and Visible.” Premillennial Essays, pp. 22-46. (Pictured on p. 1176.) It is pre-millennial, maintained Dr. S. H. Kellogg, professor of theology of the Presbyterian Seminary at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, presenting a series of arguments against the world’s conversion and dealing thoroughly with predicted world conditions dominent before the second advent. 9S. H. Kellogg, “Christ’s Coming-Is It Pre-Millennial?” Premillennial Essays, pp.44-77.PFF4 1182.5


    The “First Resurrection” was the theme of Dr. A. J. Gordon (1836-95), noted later, of the prominent Clarendon Baptist Church of Boston, holding to the two literal resurrections of the righteous and the wicked, with the thousand years of the millennium between. 10A. J. Gordon.” The First Resurrection.” Premillennial Essays, pp. 78-107. Dr. Charles Risselman Imbrie (1814-91), Presbyterian of Jersey City, spoke on the “Restitution of All Things,” in which he included the purification of the earth by fire, the removal of the curse, and the restoration of Eden.” 11Charles K. Imbrie,” The Regeneration,” Premillennial Essays, pp. 108-173. Then Methodist Prof. Henry Lummis, of Monson, Massachusetts, presented the contrast between the future kingdom of glory and the present church. 12Henry Lummis, “The Kingdom and the Church,” Premillennial Essays, pp, 174-203.PFF4 1183.1

    Next, Henry M. Parsons, Presbyterian pastor of Buffalo, dealt with the development of Antichrist. This was presented under the titles, or symbols, of Beast, Little Horn, King of Fierce Countenance, Man of Sin, and Son of Perdition. Recognizing the Papacy as the historical Antichrist of prophecy, Parsons nevertheless looked for a still further fulfillment.” 13Premillennial Essays, pp. 204-221. Bishop William Rufus Nicholson” 14WILLIAM RUFUS NICHOLSON (1822-1901) was first a Methodist Episcopal clergyman, from 1843-46. He then joined the Episcopal ranks in 1874, in 1876 being made bishop. spoke on “The Gathering of Israel” (pp. 222-240). Then Dr. J. T. Cooper, of the United Presbyterian Seminary of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, discussed the question of “Judgment or Judgments” (pp. 241-269). And Dr. James H. Brooks, Presbyterian pastor of St. Louis—whose name comes first on the authorizing call—next presented one hundred points on the relation of the second advent to doctrine (pp. 270-312).PFF4 1183.2


    The oustanding contribution to the conference was, however, the remarkable “History of the Pre-Millennial Doctrine,” presented by Dr. NATHANIEL WEST,’” 15NATHANIEL WEST, A.D. (1824-1907), distinguished Presbyterian scholar, was born in England. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Michigan in 1846 and 1850, and was graduated from the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Allegheny in 1852. He filled important pulpits in Cincinnati, Denver, and St. Paul, and in 1868-1869 studied in France and Germany. He was a linguist, adept in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Sanscrit, as well as in French and German. He was professor of ecclesiastical history and theology in the Danville (Kentucky) Seminary from 1869-1874. He was in demand as a speaker at large Bible conferences and was effective as an author and platform lecturer. In addition to Premillennial Essays (1879), he was author of the Curruption lecturer in the addition to Premillennial Essays prophecy (1898), and such author works as The Supremassy of God’s World Established (1851), and The Revelation of St. John He was implacable foe of higher criticism. then of Cincinnati, showing the continuity and persistence—along with the vicissitudes of this belief through the centuries-and indicating their own place in the long line of testimony. Logically and progressively, and with really remarkable accuracy, he carried his hearers through the centuries of the Christian Era somewhat as we have traced them in greater completeness and detail in these four volumes of Prophetic Faith.PFF4 1184.1

    West cited hundreds of witnesses, and showed remarkable familiarity with, and comprehensive grasp of, the historical evidence of the centuries. In this survey he proceeds from apostolic times on past the great Latin apostasy, then compasses the pre-Reformation and Reformation periods, the counter-Reformation and its counterinterpretations, the post-Reformation exposition and subsequent departures, the divisive Whitbyan postmillennial theory, and finally comes to the nineteenth-century revival of premillennialism.” 16The subheads give _ the outline: The Doctrine in the Apocalypses of Daniel and John; No Contradiction in the Different Representation; The Testimony of the Doctrine Crushed by an Apostatizing Church; New (Augustinian)Thoery of the Milleminnium; The protestant Interpretation of the “Antichrist” Door Opened for the Return of Chillisim; Preterist Effort to Turn the protestant position; Attitude of the Reformers; Dotrinal Symbols of the Reformation; Seventeeth century—the Westminster Divines and Standards; Eighteenth Century—The Whitbyan Theory; Bengal and His School; Nineteenth Century—the Promised Triumph of the Pre-Millennial Doctrine; Mervelous Survival of the Doctrine West’s knowledge of the “galaxy of illustrious names,” as he terms them, of Old and New World premillennialists of the nineteenth century, is phenomenal-right down to the time of the 1878 conference.PFF4 1184.2

    The religious affiliations of the recent expositors that he names are: Presbyterian (84), Church of England (44), Episcopalian (22), Congregationalist (17), Baptist (19), Methodist (10), Dutch Reformed (8), Lutheran (several), and laymen (14).” 17Nathaniel West, “History of the Pre-Millennial Doctrine,” Premillennial Essays,. 313-404. There was no comparable list except Joshua Brooks’ Dictionary of Writers on the prophecies (London, 1835). On the latter see Prophetic Faith, Vol. III p. 607. The interest transcended all churchly lines. With sweeping strokes, yet with precision, West traces the continuity, along with certain setbacks, of premillennialism across the centuries. It was a notable array, and afforded a faithful picture.PFF4 1185.1


    The Report then continues with a “Summary of the Argument in Defense of Pre-Millennialism,” by Dr. JOHN THOMAS DUF-FIELD (1823-1901), first a graduate and then long a professor at Princeton (pp. 405-428). Next, Dr. Rufus W. Clark, of the Reformed Church of Albany, spoke on the “Hope of Christ’s Coming as a Motive to Holy Living and Active Labor” (pp. 429-455). And finally Dr. W. P. Mackey, Presbyterian of Hull, England, gave the closing address on “The Return of Christ and Foreign Missions” (pp. 456-469). They were to be ardently active, he held, not apathetic and indifferent to the needs of men.PFF4 1185.2

    Dr. West adds a “Critical Appendix” of nearly fifty pages of pertinent extracts on the premillennial advent and literal first resurrection. These were selected from noted authors, chiefly European, from Reformation times onward, which buttress the thesis of the Report. So it was that this large group-the full number attending the conference is not given-took its stand by the side of the great stalwarts of the past, and went clearly on record as continuators of the truth of the premillennial second advent, and upholders of the Historicist position on Bible prophecy. 18The conflicting reaction is reflected in the warmly sympathetic editorial report in The Christian Intelligencer of November 7, 1878. And this is countered by the critical and antagonistic editorial comment of The Christian Advocate, likewise of November 7, 1878, on the selfsame premillennial conference, in contradistinction to its own postmillennial position, and denial of a literal, personal second advent. These reflect the unchanged antagonism between these two irreconcilable concepts.PFF4 1185.3

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