Previous article in this series: December 15, 2013, p. 127.
The preceding article in this series demonstrated that the Reformed confessions not only have not a word of support for postmillennialism but also repudiate this false doctrine. These confessions know only the hope of the second coming of Christ. They also present the kingdom of God as a spiritual, heavenly reign of God in the hearts and lives of elect believers, taking institutional form in the true church. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) explicitly condemns postmillennialism as “Jewish dreams.”
The Westminster Standards, the creeds of Presbyterianism, are no more supportive of postmillennialism.
The Westminster Confession of Faith calls “the visible Church” “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.”1 Postmillennialism, in contrast, tends to disparage viewing the church as the kingdom of God, preferring to regard a future “Christianized’ world, or the dominion of the saints over governments and nations, as the kingdom of Christ.
Like the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Confession holds before Presbyterians the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body on that day as their one, great hope. “Then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord…. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”2
The explanation of the second petition of the model prayer by the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives not even a hint that the coming of the kingdom includes, much less features, the earthly triumph of this kingdom within history for a thousand years.
What do we pray for in the second petition?
In the second petition, which is, “Thy kingdom come,” we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed, and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it, and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.3
Regarding the complete lack of support for postmillennialism in the Westminster Standards, the report of the study committee of illustrious Presbyterian theologians and churchmen to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1963 stated that “these Standards are not drawn up in terms that would exclude millennial expectation in the postmillennial form but they do not enunciate this belief.” Expanding its scope to all the creeds of Protestantism, the committee declared that “the Protestant creeds were, with scarcely an exception, non-millennial in the sense that belief in a millennium was not set forth as a tenet of faith.”4
The refusal of the Westminster Standards to include a statement of postmillennial expectations of the future is significant. At the time of the Westminster Assembly, and indeed at the Assembly itself, prominent Puritan theologians were strongly advocating postmillennialism. Many had convinced themselves that the uproar of the revolution against Charles I and the league among the three nations of Great Britain portended the beginning of the millennium.
But the Westminster Assembly did not incorporate these notions into its creeds.
English theologian Peter Toon observes:
William Twisse, the prolocutor of the Assembly in its first sessions, was himself a millenarian [that is, a postmillennialist] and so also were the majority of the Independent divines who attended. The influence of these millenarians was, however, insufficient to affect the final wording of the Confession of Faith, which gives the impression of following the Augustinian [that is, amillennial] teaching.5
The result was that the postmillennial theologians met separately in order to draw up their own confession, the Savoy Declaration (1658), which does confess postmillennial eschatology.
As the Lord is in care and love towards his Church, hath in his infinite wise providence exercised it with great variety in all ages, for the good of them that love him, and his own glory; so, according to his promise, we expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.6
All of the main elements of postmillennialism are included in this article: the destruction of the antichristian kingdom some, long time before the end; the extraordinary conversion and salvation of large numbers of Jews, if not the restoration of the nation of Israel in Palestine; the defeat of all the enemies of the church; the numerical growth of the church, perhaps a majority of the human race; and especially the church’s earthly peace, prosperity, and glory “in this world.”
But the Savoy Declaration is not a Reformed or Presbyterian creed. It is a Baptist, congregational creed.
By its separate meeting, apart from the Westminster Assembly, and by its deliberate addition of postmillennial eschatology to its emendation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration is a public admission that Reformed Christianity does not have, and never has had, any place for the ungrounded, unbiblical optimism of postmillennialism. On the contrary, the Reformed faith has always disavowed this optimism. Instead, the Reformed faith confesses the lively hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
Purpose of the Critical Study
Here, I end my lengthy, critical study of postmillennialism.
I judge such a long, thorough, critical study to be necessary for Reformed churches and Christians today.
Reformed believers must be warned against the doctrine that is being aggressively promoted, under the cloak of Reformed orthodoxy, by the Christian Reconstructionists; by the disciples of the Puritans, for instance, Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth movement; by the culture-Calvinists, that is, all those urging the redemption and transformation of society by a common grace of God; and, as is little recognized, by the men of the Federal Vision.
Against the seductions of postmillennialism, Reformed Christians must be convinced of the sober truth of amillennialism. They must engage in spiritual warfare with the apostasy of many churches and with the alternating allure and threat of an ungodly world. They must prepare for intensification of the warfare in the days before them. They may not be deceived by the peaceful, prosperous, powerful kingdom that is soon reared up in all the world over all nations.
Not the kingdom of Christ will enjoy carnal triumph at history’s end, but the kingdom of the beast (Rev. 13).
The victory of the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be the goal of history, on the day of Christ’s bodily and visible appearing.
Whereas the ardent desire of the Christian Reconstructionists, the Puritans, and the common grace culture-Calvinists is, “Come, millennial kingdom!” that is, a this-worldly desire, the ardent desire of confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian Christians is, “Come, Lord Jesus!” that is, an other-worldly desire.
1 Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.2, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 657.
2 Westminster Confession of Faith, 33.2, 3, in ibid., 672, 673.
3 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 102, in ibid., 699.
4 Report of the study committee on “Eschatology,” in “Acts of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod 1963” (Grand Rapids: n. p., n. d.), 85.
5 Peter Toon, “Puritan Eschatology: 1600 to 1648,” in The Manifold Grace of God (Cambridge, England: Burlington Press, 1968), 50.
6 The Savoy Declaration, 26.5, in Schaff, Creeds, vol. 3, 723.