Previous article in this series: February 1, 2014, p. 199.
Contrary to the overconfident declaration of the previous article in this series, that my treatment of postmillennialism was ended, I find that several additional articles are required to complete a thorough treatment of the false doctrine.
A biblical, creedally Reformed critique of postmillennialism has pastoral purposes. It intends to warn Reformed Christians off from this error. It desires to deliver Reformed saints who have been deceived by the false doctrine.
For the realization of these purposes, it is not enough to demonstrate that postmillennialism is unbiblical and opposed to the creeds. The critique must also point out the disastrous practical consequences of the false doctrine. The critique must show the bitter fruit that postmillennialism produces in the churches that confess the doctrine and in the lives of the men and women who embrace the teaching.
This is the content of these concluding articles.
Diversion of Our Hope
Because postmillennialism is an error in eschatology—the doctrine of the last things—the consequences of the false teaching will adversely affect the life of a church and the lives of the members of a church with regard to the end of all things, that is, with regard to the relation of the church and its members to the end of all things.
The fundamental issue between Reformed amillennialism and postmillennialism is the Christian hope, and the Christian hope makes the issue fundamental.
Postmillennialism takes the hope of a church and its members off the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body. It diverts the hope of the church from Christ’s return. It redirects a church’s hope to the coming of the carnal kingdom of postmillennialism in history.
At best, under the influence of postmillennialism a church’s hope is divided between the second coming of Christ and the postmillennial kingdom, which precedes the second coming by a thousand years or more (we remember that many postmillennialists have the earthly kingdom lasting for hundreds of thousands and even a million years, before Christ returns).
In fact, in keeping with the rule that no man can serve two masters, postmillennialists hope for the earthly, postmillennial kingdom with the hope that ought to be directed to the second coming of Christ. Hope for the earthly kingdom overshadows and gradually replaces hope for the second coming. Not the second coming of Christ is, any longer, the one, intense, all-dominating hope of a church, but the carnal kingdom of earthly peace, earthly prosperity, and earthly power.
Not Jesus Christ Himself personally and what we will enjoy when we are caught up in the air to be with Him, seeing Him face to face, is the hope of the postmillennialist, but the earthly kingdom that he himself has established and what he will enjoy in that kingdom.
Therefore, not complete deliverance from sin, not the swallowing up of death, not the public condemnation and destruction of all of God’s enemies and ours, not the utter defeat of Satan by consigning him to the abyss, not the public vindication and glorification of Jesus Christ, and of God in Him, is the hope of the postmillennialist, but the earthly honor, power, ease, and prosperity of the postmillennial kingdom—the glitter of the “golden age.”
Thus is lost the Christian hope!
The Christian Reconstructionists have written a sizable library of books promoting and extolling their postmillennial kingdom as the genuine hope of Reformed Christianity. If they have written one book promoting and extolling the second coming of Christ as the Christian hope, I have missed it. There is certainly a paucity among them of enthusiastic proclamation of the Christian hope of Christ’s second coming. Instead, their writings on the kingdom of postmillennialism are replete with disparagement of the hope of the second coming of Christ and of the everlasting, spiritual kingdom.
Also the Puritan postmillennialists and their contemporary disciples, while careful not to deny that the second coming is a hope of Christians, indeed perhaps the main hope, nevertheless divert the lively hope of the saints from Christ’s coming to the coming of the earthly kingdom dear to the heart of postmillennialism. The Puritan hope of Iain H. Murray’s book by this title—and of Murray himself—is the millennial kingdom.
The hope of a church motivates the church’s activities. One’s personal hope controls his life. Murray derives both Puritan piety and Puritan missions from the Puritan hope of the millennium, thus acknowledging that for the Puritans hope of the millennium functions in both the life of the church and the life of the Christian as hope in the second coming ought to function.
In their hope of the coming postmillennial kingdom, the Christian Reconstructionists naturally devote themselves to creating the earthly kingdom on which their hope is fixed. They exert themselves to shape the culture of the nation, to reform society, to influence art, economics, and politics, to establish the earthly dominion of the Christian Reconstruction saints, if not in Tyler, Texas, then in Moscow, Idaho.
As is one’s hope, so is one’s life.
The biblical hope of the second coming, according to all of Scripture, does not galvanize the believer into an effort to transform society and the world. Rather, it mightily moves the child of God to crucify his own corrupt nature with its lusts, to endure his sufferings with patience, to separate himself spiritually from the wicked world, and to live a holy life in accordance with the law of God.
The Puritans of the seventeenth century in Great Britain thought and strove to realize the earthly kingdom of their postmillennial dream by the revolutionary overthrow of the king, by victories in physical wars, and by the dominance of the saints and their theology in the British Isles. “The Scottish revolution [of the Scottish Covenanting movement in the seventeenth century] was grounded in the hope of a better—and solely Presbyterian—world,” that is, was motivated by “eschatological hopes” of a coming postmillennial kingdom, centered in Scotland, England, and Ireland.1 “The puritan pact was intended to carry the saints into the millennium.” “The second major common theme of the two groups [the Scots and their English allies in the Westminster Assembly] was their intense millenarian optimism. Christ’s kingdom, they expected, would be extended through missionary effort and, some claimed, military conquest.” “The National Covenant was working for ‘a vast theocracy extending from Shetland to Munster and beyond.’”2
A main theme of the Puritan preachers in their regular sermons before the English Parliament in the 1640s, which created and had the oversight of the Westminster Assembly, was that “God promises a glorious future for His Church in England and Europe—a time of latter-day glory or millennial bliss.”3
Misdirection of the hope of church and professing Christian is fatal to church and member. The church may no more tolerate the falsifying of her hope than she may tolerate the falsifying of her faith. The falsifying of the church’s hope is as dangerous as the falsifying of her faith. So important is our hope that “we are saved by hope” (). Perversion or weakening of our hope threatens our salvation.
The One Hope of Scripture
The church has one hope. This hope is the second coming of Christ with His resurrection of the bodies of the elect believers unto everlasting life. God has “begotten us again unto a lively hope…to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (). Believers are to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto [them] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” ( ). The hope of Christians is not bound up in an earthly kingdom, but “is laid up for you in heaven” ( ). The “blessed hope” of the people of God is “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” ( ). The life to which the saints look forward is “eternal life” ( : “the hope of eternal life”).
The church’s one hope is the grace of God in its fullest, final manifestation: the coming of Jesus Christ. Her hope is not her own future work: the earthly kingdom of postmillennialism. “The new Jerusalem does not arise from the earth, but descends from heaven upon this earth; not we, with all our piety and activity, with all the work of missions and evangelism [and, I add, with all the efforts to ‘Christianize the world’ and to reconstruct society—DJE] cause the great day to come, but it remains God’s gift…. It enters catastrophically, suddenly…because God intervenes.”4
The One Hope of the Creeds
On the basis of the scriptural proclamation of the hope of church and believer, the church’s creeds identify the one hope of the church and her members as the second coming of Christ. The Apostles Creed expresses the church’s expectation of the future in these words: “He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.”
The Nicene Creed concludes with every believer’s one hope: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Had R. J. Rushdoony or Iain H. Murray written the Nicene Creed, the last line would read: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, but especially for the coming earthly kingdom of the saints for a thousand glorious, golden years.”
The Christian hope of the Heidelberg Catechism is nowhere the earthly kingdom of Christ of postmillennialism. Rather, “with uplifted head” every Reformed Christian is taught to “look for the very same person who before offered Himself for my sake to the tribunal of God…to come as judge from heaven…[and] shall translate me with all His chosen ones to Himself, into heavenly joys and glory” (Q. 52).
The only other event that is permitted place in the Christian hope of Christ’s coming is the translation of the believer into heaven in his soul at the moment of death: “my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its Head” (Heid. Cat., Q. 57). This is because translation of the believer in his soul at death is an aspect of the second coming and the resurrection. At the death of the elect believer, Christ comes for him personally in his soul. And at his death, the believer is raised into new, eternal life in the soul, as in the day of Christ he will be raised in the body.
According to the Catechism, the lifelong grief of the Christian is not that he does not have earthly dominion over the world, a grief assuaged only by the prospect of the victory of the saints in the postmillennial kingdom. But his grief is sorrow that, “while in this life,” he has “only a small beginning of…obedience [to the law of God].” His grief is bearable and assuaged by his hope of “perfection…in a life to come” (Questions 114, 115).
The Reformed doctrine of the last things, expressing the hope of the Reformed church and her members, in the Belgic Confession is Article 37. There is not a word, or a hint, of the expectation of the “golden age” of postmillennialism. On the contrary. Earthly life for the church is “labor and trouble.” To the very end, and especially at the very end, of history, the saints are “most cruelly persecuted, oppressed, and tormented…in this world.” “Their cause” does not have an earthly victory in history, but is “condemned by many judges and magistrates as heretical and impious.”
The Reformed hope is “that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly…to declare Himself Judge of the quick and the dead.” It is the “consideration of this [final] judgment” that is “most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect,” that is, that is their hope in the world. The second coming of Christ will finally wipe all tears from their eyes. Then, their cause “will be known to be the cause of the Son of God.”
Reformed Christians do not “expect,” that is, hope for, the postmillennial kingdom. Rather, “we expect [that is, hope for] that great day [of Christ’s return] with a most ardent desire.” This ardent desire does not allow itself to be distracted. We live and work and suffer in the power of this hope: “Even so, come Lord Jesus ().” This quotation is the last line of the doctrine of the last things in Article 37 of the Belgic Confession. It is not: “Come, millennial kingdom,” but: “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Appeal to the Reformed Community
So plain and powerful are Scripture and the creeds on the Christian hope and so fundamental is hope to the Christian religion that one cannot but cry out to the Reformed community, especially the Reformed community of theologians, ministers, and elders.
“How can you so calmly tolerate, and even apparently approve as an option for Reformed Christians, the diversion and perversion of the Christian hope by postmillennialism?”
“Is hope of little worth to you?”
“Have you never read, or taken seriously, the Nicene Creed and the Belgic Confession?”
“Do you yourself have, cherish, and live by the church’s and the Christian’s one hope?”
“And can you really encourage the members of your churches to entertain the millennial kingdom, if not as the main hope, then as an important hope of the Christian, when in fact this hope will never be fulfilled? The “golden age” of postmillennialism is as imaginary and fanciful as the “Utopia”—the ‘no place’—of the philosophers. In the language of, the postmillennial hope “maketh ashamed.”
… to be continued.
1 Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature & Theology 1550-1682 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 12.
2 Ibid., 107-109.
3 Peter Toon, Puritans and Calvinism (Seoul, Korea: Westminster Publishing House, 1972), 40. One of the fundamental characteristics of Puritanism was its aberrant millennial eschatology: “A strong sense that the last days…were about to dawn…that the Roman Catholic Church…would soon collapse [and] that Biblical religion would triumph…. This emphasis often became an obsession” (Toon, Puritans, 10).
4 K. Dijk, Over de Laatste Dingen, vol. 3: De Toekomst van Christus (Kampen: Kok, 1953), 55. The translation of the Dutch is mine.