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Part I.


Part I.

James Dodson


“Sed forte sic in longum nimis protenditur spes magna de illustri adventu Domini ad plenissimam suorum ἀπολύτρωσιν et universale judicium Ipsi a Patre commissum! Fateor certe longius differri quam sibi vulgus hominum in Ecclesia Christiana futurum esse persuadet. Et ipse quoque ego hac de re non nisi trepide scribo; etiamsi in clara veritatis luce minus esse videatur quod metuam. Amo apparitionem Domini Jesu, nec peto moram finis, sperans me misericordiam inventurum in die illo: Fidei tamen et prudentiæ esse existimo, spatium dare Deo opus suum in his terris consummandi antequam claudat sæcula; et nobis imperiose non vindicare arbitrium constituendorum temporum Mundi et Ecclesiæ; quod solius Dei esse nos docuit Dominus. Opus enim quod Deus in his terris exhibere decervit, et cujus exhibendi caussa Sæcula condidit, est magnum, mirabile, paradoxum (Hab. 1:5); quod nostri officii est non ex animi nostri parvitate, sed Divina majestate, magnitudine et consiliorum ejus vastitate ac profunditate metiri. Parvitatis enim animi nostri argumentum est, tempora illa propria, quæ Deus exequendis consiliis suis destinavit, intra angustos constringere terminos; impatientiæ autem et incredulitatis, nostris eadem cogitationibus anticipare, et dicere cum Judæis carnalibus: Acceleret, propere producat opus suum ut videamus (Jes. 5:19). Fidei contra et σωφροσύνης est, non festinare (Jes. 28:16). Novit enim Deum, licet cunctari videatur, non cunctari vere (Hab. 2:3, 4); sed suo tempore omnia agere pulchre. An putamus vere, Deum Regnum Filii sui, per quatuor nimirum annorum millia promissum, tandem in hoc Orbe voluisse exhibere et per continuam luctam ad perfectionem aliquam perducere, ut illud Mundo ostensum mox rursus dispareat? Sed ipse ego nolo tempori hujus Mundi plus spatii dare, quam Prophetiæ suadent, extra quas nihil sapio.”—Vitringa, Anak. Apoc. (ad cap. 20:1–15, sect. xvii.)



The subject handled in this volume seems periodically to agitate the Church. It has its law of recurrence. In times of general excitement, of extensive change, of pervading uneasiness and trial, of mingled hope and fear—it invariably rises to the surface. The struggles of the primitive Church forced it up, and kept it alive; with the battles of the Reformation it revived; in the exciting times of the English commonwealth it took a pretty prominent place among the multitudinous questions which distracted the Church; and the first French Revolution—startling Europe, intellectually as well as politically, from the sepulchral repose of the last century, shaking the old continent to its centre, and impregnating the entire social system with new elements both of good and of evil—woke it up, and set inquiring minds to work upon it, to an extent unknown before. While some, carried away by the unparalleled success of modern missions, hastily anticipated the peaceful subjugation of the world to Christ, others were hurried into the opposite extreme, of pronouncing all missionary exertions next to hopeless, without the personal appearing, and the immediate agency of Christ. Since then, the changes in public affairs, both political and ecclesiastical, have been too organic and exciting to allow of this question going to rest for any length of time; and if the prophet’s inquiry, “O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” is likely to rise from many an anxious heart, in the progress of events, and to give birth to speculation, as heretofore, on the prospects of the Church, assuredly “we do well to take heed to the sure word of prophecy, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.”

But all the more does it behove us to see that the light that is in us be not darkness. Great mistakes have undeniably been committed by the students of prophecy from age to age,—mistakes which time, that infallible expounder of the Divine counsels, has in every case ultimately detected, but not till in many instances they had wrought confusion and every evil work. Certainly, the Thessalonians, “shaken and troubled in mind,” by parties who persuaded them that “the day of Christ was at hand, even at the doors,” were under a delusion; nor was it dealt with, in the exercise of apostolic fidelity, as a perfectly harmless delusion. It is notorious, too, that a large number of the primitive Christians, for three centuries, fell into the same mistake, expecting the struggles in which they were engaged to issue in the Personal appearing of their Lord, and “the first resurrection” of his martyred witnesses. The militant did, indeed, become a triumphant Church, but in a very different sense from what was expected. The martyred testimony of Jesus “lived and reigned,” but the martyrs themselves lived not. The Gospel slew the great red dragon—Paganism was defeated in the high places of the field—Christianity ascended the throne of the Cæsars: that was the predicted reality which the enthusiasm of so many had led them to misinterpret. The same mistake, nevertheless, has been again and again committed—never with perfect impunity, and sometimes with consequences truly deplorable.

One day, however, the Redeemer will assuredly come in Person. Is that day, then, now “at hand, even at the doors?” or, “shall that day not come until” certain events, yet far in the future, have prepared the way for it? A momentous question truly; yet not precisely the question which I am to discuss. What I have to investigate is not when, but for what purposes, the Redeemer will come.

Some appear to think that all the difference of opinion on the second advent is about its nearness or distance. The sooner they undeceive themselves on this, the better. For my own part, if that were all, I should let the subject alone. To me, the coming of the Lord should be as dear as to any whose views about his coming I am to examine. To “love his appearing” is not the monopoly of a section of his friends. To enter the lists, therefore, with those who think he is at the doors, with the mere view of showing that he is not, though it may at times become a necessary duty, to prevent disappointment,[1] is not the most agreeable of tasks. But mine is very different. So far, indeed, the question of time is involved; but quite indirectly and subordinately. What we have mainly to do with is the events. According as these are expected before or after the coming of Christ, will be the character and complexion they assume in our eyes. Is Christ coming, not to terminate, but to reconstitute the mortal state—to establish a terrestrial kingdom, illuminated by the beams of his glory, and pervaded by the sense of his visible presence? The system, in short, which I am to bring to the test of Scripture is briefly this:

That the fleshly and sublunary state is not to terminate with the second coming of Christ, but to be then set up in a new form; when, with his glorified saints, the Redeemer will reign in person on the throne of David at Jerusalem for a thousand years, over a world of men yet in the flesh, eating and drinking, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage, under this mysterious sway.[2]

This is Premillennialism, or—as the early fathers, and after them the Reformers and our elder divines, termed it—Chiliasm; that is, the expectation of a thousand years’ reign upon earth after the second coming of Christ.[3] In the above statement I have expressed only the fundamental principle of the system, to which nearly all the expectants of the premillennial advent would subscribe, keeping clear of the points on which they are divided. I have said, for example, that they expect the saints, in glorified bodies, to be associated with Christ in his millennial reign; but what saints, is not agreed. The early chiliasts—so far as I have been able to gather their views—thought that those whom Christ will find alive at his coming would be left below during the thousand years, and only such as had died before his coming would appear with him in glory. A few in modern times are of the same opinion, postponing the change of the living saints till the end of the millennium. But the great majority of modern premillennialists hold that the saints of both classes—the dead by resurrection, and the living by instantaneous transformation—will appear with Christ in glory at the beginning of the millennium.[4] Again, I have said they look for a reign over a world of men in flesh and blood; but what men, is not agreed. The moderns, for the most part, expect the restoration of the Jews to Palestine, and their supremacy over the nations of the earth;[5] while the early chiliasts appear to have agreed with their opponents, that Christianity had for ever abolished Jewish peculiarities; and though they were termed Judaizers, this was not, so far as I can observe, because they contended for any millennial supremacy of Jews over Gentiles, but because their system Judaized Christianity itself. In a word, I have said they expect a reign upon earth of Christ and his glorified saints; but whether actually upon the earth, or only over and hovering above it, in the air, and whether visibly or invisibly—whether the ruled will see their rulers, and, if so, to what extent, whether fully or but partially, whether always or only at times—is by no means agreed.

These and other points of difference I have purposely avoided in my statement of their doctrine. Even in the sequel, they will be noticed only in so far as they affect the common element—the essence of the system; I mean, the expectation of a mortal and sublunary state after the second advent—of a glorified and fleshly state of humanity, as constituting the upper and lower departments of one and the same millennial kingdom.

This is the doctrine which, by the light of God’s Word, I have undertaken to examine. Some may think it of small consequence whether this system be true or false; but no one who intelligently surveys its nature and bearings can be of that opinion. Premillennialism is no barren speculation—useless though true, and innocuous though false. It is a school of Scripture interpretation; it impinges upon and affects some of the most commanding points of the Christian faith; and, when suffered to work its unimpeded way, it stops not till it has pervaded with its own genius the entire system of one’s theology, and the whole tone of his spiritual character, constructing, I had almost said, a world of its own; so that, holding the same faith, and cherishing the same fundamental hopes as other Christians, he yet sees things through a medium of his own, and finds every thing instinct with the life which this doctrine has generated within him.

Let us not, however, prejudge the question. There is danger of this on both sides. On the one hand, there are certain minds which, either from constitutional temperament, or the particular school of theology to which they are attached, have tendencies in the direction of premillennialism so strong, that they are ready to embrace it almost immediately con amore. Souls that burn with love to Christ—who, with the mother of Sisera, cry through the lattice, “Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?” and with the spouse, “Make haste, my Beloved, and be thou like to a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of spices”—such souls are ready to catch at a doctrine which seems to promise a much earlier appearing of their beloved Lord than the ordinary view. “I have heard,” relates an honest and warm-hearted premillennialist of the Commonwealth time, “I have heard of a poor man who, it seems, so loved and longed for Christ’s appearance, that when there was a great earthquake, and when many cried out the day of judgment was come, and one cried, ‘Alas! alas! what shall I do?’ and a third, ‘How shall I hide myself?’ &c., that poor man only said, ‘Ah! is it so? Is the day come? Where shall I go? Upon what mountain shall I stand to see my Saviour?’”[6] How deeply we sympathize with this feeling will by and by appear. It is for such as feel thus, more than for any others, that I have undertaken this investigation.—There are next, your curious and restless spirits who feed upon the future. These are charmed with the multifarious details of the millennial kingdom. They are in their very element when settling the order in which the events shall occur, separating the felicities of the kingdom into its terrestrial and celestial departments respectively, sorting the multitudinous particulars relating to the Ezekiel and Apocalyptic cities—and such like studies. For such minds, whose appetite for the marvellous is the predominant feature of their mental character, and who live in a sort of unreal world—for these, the confused and shadowy grandeur of a kingdom of glory upon earth, with all that relates to its introduction, its establishment, its administration, and its connection with the final and unchanging state, opens up a subject of surpassing interest and riveting delight—the very food which their peculiar temperament craves and feeds on. And, to mention no more, there are those who seem to have a constitutional tendency to materialize the objects of faith, and can hardly conceive of them save as more or less implicated with this terrestrial platform. Such minds, it is superfluous to observe, will have a natural affinity with a system which brings the glory of the resurrection-state into immediate and active communion with sublunary affairs, and represents the reign of those who neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven, as consisting in a mysterious rule over men in the flesh, who eat and drink, buy and sell, plant and build, marry wives, and are given in marriage. To set about proving to persons of this cast of mind that premillennialism will not stand the test of Scripture, is like attempting to rob them of a jewel, or to pluck the sun out of the heavens. To such minds, any other view of the subject is perfectly bald and repulsive, while theirs is encircled with a glory that excelleth. To them it carries the force of intuitive perception; they feel—they know it to be true.

But are there no anti-premillennial tendencies, which require to be guarded against? I think there are. Under the influence of such tendencies, the inspired text, as such, presents no rich and exhaustless field of prayerful and delighted investigation; exegetical inquiries and discoveries are an uncongenial element; and whatever Scripture intimations regarding the future destinies of the Church and of the world involve events out of the usual range of human occurrences, or exceeding the anticipations of enlightened Christian sagacity, are almost instinctively overlooked or softened down. Such minds turn away from premillennialism just as instinctively as the others are attracted to it. The bare statement of its principles carries to their mind its own refutation—not so much from its perceived unscripturalness, as from the absurdity which it seems to carry on the face of it. They have hardly patience to listen to it. It requires an effort to sit without a smile under a grave exposition and defence of it. If they undertake to refute it, it is a task the irksomeness of which they are unable to conceal, and their unfitness for which can scarcely fail to appear. Let us try to avoid both extremes, investigating reverently the mind of the Spirit.

Much irrelevant discussion has been mixed up with the question of the premillennial advent, and arguments have been advanced on both sides which originate in confused apprehensions of the whole subject.

Some premillennialists, for example, seem to think that the belief in a personal advent is confined to themselves, and that those who repudiate a premillennial advent are not expecting their adorable Lord in person at all. Surely so gross a misrepresentation does not require to be protested against. It is the objects and, in connection with this, the time of the Redeemer’s coming that are in question—not its reality.

Another misconception relates to the final destiny of the present physical system—“the heavens and earth which are now.” That these are not to be annihilated, but to furnish the elements out of which “the new heavens and the new earth” are to emerge, after the general conflagration, is zealously maintained by most modern premillennialists, as part of their system, and as what their opponents may be expected to repudiate. But this is a mistake. In point of fact, the primitive and the earlier English advocates of that doctrine seem to have taken other views of the final abode of the redeemed; while in our own day, neither do all of them affirm it, nor is it denied by all their opponents. Mr Tyso, for example, insists that after the thousand years’ reign of Christ upon earth, he and his people will take their leave of it for ever; while Dr Urwick of Dublin, writing against the premillennial doctrine, maintains, at some length, that the eternal abode of the glorified Church is to rise out of the ashes of this present earth. So does Dr Fairbairn, in his able work on the Typology of Scripture, and several others.[7] Some minds shrink from this latter opinion, as tending to carnalize, or at least to lower, our views of the celestial state. But may not such sensitiveness spring from an unconscious confounding of the present wretched state with that which is expected to take its place? May there not be in it some tincture of that morbid spiritualism, which shrinks from the very touch of materialism, as if separation from it in every form would be the consummation of happiness! May not the Gnostic element—of the essential sinfulness and vanity of matter—be found lurking beneath it? Certainly, if the earth was implicated in the curse, it is natural to expect that it should share in its removal. Certainly, the glorified bodies both of the Redeemer and the redeemed derive their elements from the dust of this ground, which will thus—in their persons, at least—for ever endure. And if it be no degradation to the Son of God to take it into his own person, “as the First-born from the dead”—if the dust of this ground is capable of becoming a “spiritual” and a “glorious body,” meet vehicle for the perfected and beatified spirit, the sharer of its bliss in the immediate presence, and the instrument of all its activities in the service, of God and the Lamb—it does seem hard to conceive how the very system which has furnished all these elements of incorruption, and spirituality, and beauty, and glory—when its present constitution shall be dissolved, and when new and higher laws shall be stamped upon it—should be incapable of furnishing a congenial abode for the glorified Church. Nor is it easy to make any thing else out of Paul’s singularly interesting and noble announcements regarding the deliverance of a groaning creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:19–23), or fairly to interpret the celebrated prediction of Peter (2 Pet. 3:10–13), otherwise than as intimating that “the new heavens and the new earth,” physically considered will be the same which God originally created for the abode of men—when it shall have undergone an igneous, as it has already undergone an aqueous, transformation. Nor let any one ask, Of what consequence is it whether the one opinion or the other be the correct one? For if this be what the Spirit has seen fit so specifically to reveal, it must be worthy of being held fast by us; and whatever view we take of it will necessarily give its hue to all other statements of Scripture regarding the earth.

But be all this as it may, the reader will now see that it does not divide the advocates from the opponents of the premillennial advent. The ultimate destiny of our present physical system, is a question on which neither party are unanimous amongst themselves, and which may safely be regarded as an open question.


[1] “Sed et illi quibus dicebat apostolus, Non cito moveamini mente, quasi instet dies Domini, diligebant utique adventum Domini; nec eos hoc dicens doctor gentium ab illa dilectione frangebat, qua ut inflammarentur volebat; et ideo nolebat ut crederent eis, a quibis audiebant instare diem Domini, ne forte cum transisset tempus quo eum crediderant esse venturum, et venisse non cernerent, etiam cetera fallaciter sibi promitti arbitrantes, et de mercede fidei desperarent. Non ergo ille diligit adventum Domini qui eum asserit propinquare, aut ille qui asserit non propinquare; sed ille potius, qui eum sive prope sive longe sit sinceritate fidei, firmitate spei, ardore caritatis exspectat.”—August. Epist. cxcix. 15.

[2] My sole reason for placing these features of the system rather more in the foreground than in the first edition, of which Mr. Wood complains, (“Last Things,” p. 7), is to bring out more emphatically what it is which I wish to investigate.

[3] “Hi autem qui spiritales sunt, istos ita credentes χιλιαστὰς appellant Græco vocabulo; quos, verbum e verbo experimentes nos, possumus Milliarios nuncupare.” [“They who do believe them are called by the spiritual Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians.”]—August. De Civit. Dei, lib. xx. cap. vii. 1.

“Χιλιασταὶ, quos nos dicere possumus Milliarios.” [“Chiliasts, which we call by the name Millenarians.”]—Hieron in Esa. lxv. 22, 23.

[4] Mr Burgh limits the saints of the first resurrection to sufferers for Christ, in contradistinction from believers at large.—Lectures on the Second Advent, and Exposition of the Book of Revelation.

[5] Certain American writers have lately revived the old opinion, that the millennial earth will be wholly in possession of the glorified saints. Mr. Burchell, in his “Midnight Cry,” takes the same view.

[6] Christ’s Appearance the Second Time for the Salvation of Believers. [By John Durant] 1653. Hatchard’s Reprint, p. 119. Lond. 1829.

[7] The literature of this question, in the Augustan age of theology, may be seen in De Moor (Comm. in Marck. Comp.) xxxiv. § 30.