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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. A New Departure in Premillennialism

    Perhaps the outstanding feature of modern Futurist premillennialism is the so-called “gap” theory, by which all prophetic fulfillment skips over the entire Christian “dispensation,” the whole period between the first and second advents constituting a parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventieth of these prophetic weeks. 3For example, H. A. Ironside, The Great Parenthesis, p. 23. Here are his exact words: “The moment Messiah died on the cross, the prophetic clock stopped. There has not been a tick upon that clock for nineteen centuries. It will not begin to go again until the entire present age has come to an end, and Israel will once more be taken up to God.” Thus, they say, the book of Revelation belongs almost entirely to the time after the “rapture,” the “end-time” of seven or more years between the Christian dispensation and the millennium. Then the Messianic prophecies and large parts of the New Testament apply to the earthly Jewish millennial kingdom.PFF4 1221.1


    These views, as popularized by modern premillennialists, are summarized by Hamilton, who remarks that “there is a vast difference” between these and historic premillennialism. Here are ten points placed in contrast: (1) The second advent is expected in two parts, the first, a coming for the church, at the beginning of the supposedly deferred seventieth week; the second, a coming with the church, at least seven years later—this second aspect concerning Israel and the world. (2) At the resurrection of the righteous dead of all ages, the living redeemed ones are to be “raptured,” or caught up to Christ to the marriage feast of the Lamb during seven years. (Most hold this rapture to be secret, though some do not; and others apply it only to those who are looking for the advent.) (3) The church thus escapes the great tribulation under the coming Antichrist. (Some, however, are posttribulationists, believing that the church goes through this tribulation and is taken up afterward.)PFF4 1221.2

    (4) The Holy Spirit is removed from the world at the second advent; then the Jews, returning to Palestine, are mostly still unbelieving, but a remnant are true to God, and preach the gospel of the kingdom (not the gospel of the Christian Era) during the second half of the week. (5) After the seven years the martyrs of this tribulation period are resurrected (they are not part of the church). (6) Armageddon is fought—Antichrist and his hosts against the Gentile believers; Christ, “appearing” with the church, holds the “sheep-and-goat” judgment (on the basis of how the nations have treated Christ’s brethren—the Jews). The living remnant and the Gentile “nations” enter the millennium with unglorified bodies. (7) The Jews look on Christ and are saved; they similarly enter the millennium unglorified.PFF4 1221.3

    (8) During the millennial kingdom the Jews are in authority on earth. The Temple worship is established at Jerusalem. Sin is repressed as the nations submit under coercion to the “iron rod” rule. (9) Satan, bound since the end of the seven years, is loosed at the end of the millennium and gathers the nations in rebellion, only to be destroyed by fire. Then comes the Great White Throne judgment, and the setting up of the eternal kingdom. (10) As for the relation of the glorified church to the believers on earth, some would say the church participates in the millennial reign on earth, but most would probably say that their home is in heaven, although they may visit the earth. 4Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, pp. 23-26.PFF4 1222.1

    In this scheme the Jews, even though reigning in the millennial kingdom, are not regenerated in the same way as the redeemed, and the unregenerate “nations” are ruled by coercion. The more radical features of extreme Literalism appear in connection with the Jewish kingdom, and the application of a large proportion of Scripture to the Jews, and not to the Christian church.PFF4 1222.2


    The Futurist aspect of the later premillennialism was a new departure. Doubtless Lacunza’s Catholic Futurism influenced the readers of Irving’s translation, and the Albury Conferences, in which Irving’s influence was strong, recommended allowing for the Futurism of Lacunza and S. R. Maitland. Irvingism set forth a sort of Futurism, and a pretribulation “rapture.” In The Morning Watch Irving explains that, although he has not abandoned his former “symbolical” Historicist interpretations of the trumpets, he now expects, on the basis of the revelations of “the Holy Ghost,” “by other tongues,” a future “literal” fulfillment of these prophecies in England.PFF4 1222.3

    Under the sixth trumpet, Irving says, amid revolution and bloodshed, the church baptized with the Holy Ghost—that is, the Irvingite, or Catholic Apostolic, Church—will, like the Two Witnesses, after three and one-half years of keeping down the (future) Antichrist, be slain and ascend into glory, leading with them the righteous dead and those who have not been called upon to seal their testimony with their blood. Thereupon Antichrist will develop (the “let” being then removed). Finally, this church of the first-born (the man-child of Revelation 12), being with Christ in the cloud of His glory, will come with Him to pour out the seven vials upon God’s enemies. 5Edward Irving, “An Interpretation of the Fourteenth Chapter of the Apocalypse,” The Morning Watch, vol. 5, pp. 308, 309, 323. Cf. the next installment in vol. 6, pp. 18, 27.PFF4 1222.4

    But the origin, or at least the formulation, of the more thoroughgoing Futurism, and Dispensationalism—a Protestant Futurist view completely different from the Historic Protestant interpretation—is to be found in the conferences at Powerscourt Castle, in Ireland.PFF4 1223.1


    In the Powerscourt Conferences, some of which Irving also attended, among the leading voices were several of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren, 6The “Plymouth Brethren” originated in an attempt to escape from formalism, worldliness. and sectarianism. Theirs was a back-to-the-Bible movement, comparable to the American Christian” groups. But it split repeatedly over problems of organization and other differences of opinion into fragments that still continue their separate ways. About 1825 Edward Cronin gathered the first congregation in Dublin, and was joined by other leading spirits, the most notable perhaps being John Nelson Darby and B. W. Newton. The name Plymouth Brethren is derived from the fact that Plymouth was long the chief center of the movement. But not until the Powerscourt Conferences, beginning in 1830, did the Brethren begin to formulate their prophetic interpretation, a subject that caused the first split. Newton, along with the Biblical scholar Tregelles, refused to accept Darby’s Dispensationalism, the secret rapture, et cetera. The fact that Newton was later discredited for other views lessened the influence of his dissent. The Plymouth Brethren, in general, became the formulators and promulgators of the Dispensationalist-pretribulationist-Futurist premillennialism now widespread in Fundamentalist circles. Their influence, out of all proportion to their numbers, affected ministers of many denominations in Europe and America, and especially many leading evangelists, including D. L. Moody. (See H. A. Ironside, A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement, chaps. 1-4 and pp. 82, 199; also Albert Henry Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. 2, pp. 711-713.) particularly John Nelson Darby. Although opposed by the chairman (the rector of Powerscourt), Darby seemed, to some at least, to have a clearer concept than others, and Lady Powerscourt was of “one mind” with the Brethren. 7W. B. Neatby, A History of the Plymouth Brethren, pp. 38, 39; Mrs. Hamilton Madden, Memoir of,.. Robert Daly, pp. 149-153; Mrs. Oliphant, The Life of Edward Irving, vol. 2, pp. 149, 150 (cf. p. vii). Here, says Ironside—“the precious truth of the Rapture of the church was brought to light; that is, the coming of the Lord in the air to take away His church before the great tribulation should begin on earth. These views brought out at Powerscourt castle not only largely formed the views of the Brethren elsewhere, but as years went on obtained wide publication in [other] denominational circles, chiefly through the writings of such men as Darby, Bellett, Newton, S. P. Tregelles,” and others. 8Ironside, Historical Sketch, p. 23.PFF4 1223.2

    But Tregelles, who participated in some of the Powerscourt meetings (and for a time was a dissenter from the pretribulation-rapture doctrine), intimates that the Brethren adopted it from the Irvingites. This origin is to be noted:PFF4 1223.3

    “I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there should be a Secret Rapture of the Church at a secret coming until this was given forth as an ‘utterance’ in Mr. Irving’s church from what was then received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether anyone ever asserted such a thing or not it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose.” 9S. P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, p. 35; quoted in George L. Murray, Millennial Studies, p. 138.PFF4 1223.4

    The Plymouth Brethren later disclaimed any connection with the Irvingites. It is possible that they did not consciously derive this doctrine from them, although it is certain that Tregelles is correct in saying that Irving was himself teaching a form of the “rapture” which he derived from the “utterances” of the unknown tongues, some time between 1830 and 1832. Darby claimed that he derived the idea of the new dispensation from no other person, but obtained it from the Bible. His statement on the pretribulation rapture neither claims nor disclaims a derivation from “man’s teaching,” but speaks of the Scripture that gave him understanding of the subject. It was said that his doubts on this were removed by a Mr. Tweedy, who had no connection with Irvingism. 10Napoleon Noel, History of the Brethren, vol. 1, pp. 73, 74.PFF4 1223.5

    However that may be, as Allis points out, about the time that Irving was teaching these things, the Brethren “speedily became ardent advocates of what is called the ‘any moment’ doctrine of the coming.” Allis also points out that, equal in importance to their “gap” or “parenthesis” theory of the Christian Era, this “any moment” rapture is a great fundamental of Dispensationalism; for if Christ’s coming to take up His saints is the next event to be expected, many events that are to precede the glorious second advent must come after this rapture, and the advent must be split into two parts. 11Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, pp. 168, 169.PFF4 1224.1


    As mentioned, William Cuninghame in 1832 opposed Irving’s Futurism, but stated that he had newly accepted the “rapture” (not secret, however) as before the great tribulation. For this he cites Joseph Mede. 12William Cuninghame, A Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets, pp. 461n, 480-482, 496n. But he does not name his immediate source—whether, he derived it from Irving or someone else of the Albury group, or whether from the Powerscourt Conferences.PFF4 1224.2

    The claim that Mede taught the pretribulation rapture may not necessarily establish the claim that either the Irvingites or the Brethren actually derived it from him. Mede offered several alternative hypotheses in a hastily written reply to a query as to why the saints should be caught up into the air, instead of awaiting the Lord on the earth. One of these is the conjecture, “What if it be, that they may be preserved during the conflagration of the earth,” like Noah in the ark, while the wicked are consumed? But the source of this idea must actually be pushed back one more step to its origin in a Jewish tradition that the just, resurrected by God, will be given wings like eagles during the thousand years when the world is renewed. 13Joseph Mede, Works, book 4, epistle 22, pp. 775, 776. (For this he cites “Gemara Abodah Zarah, c.l.”)PFF4 1224.3


    Irving’s tribulation period, involving the reign of a Futurist Antichrist, following the 3 1/2 years of the Two Witnesses, would seem to imply a period of seven years. We find the idea of this seven-year period as a deferred seventieth week fully, expressed in the Powerscourt Conferences. 14Here “the idea of the cancelled seventieth week of Daniel, beginning after the rapture of the church, was suggested by Sir Edward Denny and Mr. Darby.” (Ironside. Historical Sketch, p. 32.) This gap” theory, immediately accepted by several, was rejected by Newton (Ibid.) and Tregelles, both posttribulationists. But Tregelles accepted this “reserved week”—at least he taught it in later years—as ending at the advent after both Jews and Christians have experienced three and one-half years of tribulation, following the breaking of the covenant in the midst of the week. (S. P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, pp. 104-111.) This latter interpretation probably goes back to that propounded by Hippolytus but not accepted by the church of his day. (Hippolytus, “Fragmenta in Danielem,” in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graecae, vol. 10, cols. 651-655.) Bickersteth (1836) adds to the 70 (457 B.C.-A.D. 34) an additional 69 weeks (451 B.C.-A.D. 33) an indefinite period of trouble, and “one week” of years at the end of the age—the first half for the Jews to rebuild the Temple, and the second half for the Antichrist. (Practical Guide, pp. 134, 135 in The Literalist, vol. 4.)PFF4 1224.4


    The new trend into Futurism and pretribulationism, combined with the already strong Judaistic chiliasm, and Darby’s Dispensationalism, 15All Christians recognize the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament dispensations, but generally regard them as two phases of the same plan of salvation through faith in the sacrifice of Christ—one in anticipation; the other in retrospect. Bat ultra-dispensationalism divides so sharply between numerous dispensations as to make God deal differently with man in each, and to “divide” the Word of Truth by assigning various portions to each dispensation. The idea of a series of dispensations did not originate with Darby. There is a hint of it at Albury. (Dialogues on Prophecy, vol. 2. p. 238.) Kromminga attributes it to the Irvingites, and originally to Cocceius in the seventeenth century (Kromminga, op. cit., pp. 251, 195, 196, 204), but the connection is not apparent. was later to give rise to an ultra-Dispensationalism. B. W. Newton, who insisted that all believers from Abraham on were included in the church, had drawn up an opposition statement in 1845 which, if accurate, would indicate that the rest of the Brethren taught the opposite of the following beliefs:PFF4 1225.1

    Newton insisted that the Synoptic Gospels were Christian Scripture the same as John’s; that the church of Pentecost was not semi-Jewish and earthly, in contrast with the true church; that the epistles of Peter, Hebrews, and Galatians were equal to Ephesians or Colossians; that the introduction of Jewish circumstances, etc., does not make a Biblical passage Jewish in subject matter [i.e. inapplicable to Christians]; that the church is under the covenant promise the same as the Jews will be; that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile; that the promises to Abraham were not merely earthly but heavenly also; and that the church is not divided into “compartments.” 16Ironside, Historical Sketch, p. 32. It is not clear which of the doctrines indicate Darby’s Dispensationalism. Mauro says that the most spiritual leaders of that movement, including Darby, Mueller, and others, never held the “Jewish” character of the kingdom preached by John the Baptist and Christ, or of the Gospels, and other points that were likely developed later. (Philip Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 20.) But evidently the early Dispensationalism of Darby gave rise to the later elaborations.PFF4 1225.2

    Thus it may be seen how the trend of one school of premillennialists was away from the earlier standard positions, to a completely new compartmental system that splits up the plan of salvation, as well as the Word itself, into segments, only parts of which are applicable to present-day Christians.PFF4 1225.3

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