Much of the error in the churches of our country is rooted, either deliberately or unconsciously in the error of post-millennialism. There was a time when pre-millennialism was rather popular doctrine and constituted a threat to the truth which the Church maintained. But today, while there are still many pre-millennialists in the churches, this error is not such a major question in the defense of the truth. Rather, post-millennialism has become the common error concerning the truth of Christ’s coming.
What does post-millennialism teach?
In its simplest form, post-millennialism teaches that the coming of Christ upon the clouds of heaven shall beafter (post) the millennium. This is in distinction from pre-millennialism which teaches that the coming of Christ shall be before (pre) the millennium. However, there are also other differences. Premillennialism usually insists on the millennium as being a literal period of 1000 years. The postmillennialists do not insist on a literal 1000 years, but are content to speak of a long period of time which constitutes the millennium.
Further, the pres insist that this 1000 year millennium shall be characterized primarily by the reign of Christ on earthly Mount Zion in Palestine on the east shore of the Mediterranean Sea over the nation of “Israel. The Jews form the center of Christ’s earthly kingdom. The post-millennialists are not particularly concerned; with the Jews, but conceive of a kingdom which shall have no distinction between Jew and Gentile in it, but shall encompass all lands and all people.
The pres, to note another difference, teach that the millennium shall be established by a sudden coming of Christ from heaven to the earth—a coming which ushers in the millennium when the kingdom is established in Jerusalem. The posts, on the other hand, teach that the millennium shall be realized more slowly by a gradual spread of Christianity throughout the world, by a progressive turning of men to the gospel, by a growing acceptance of the true religion of Scripture by all peoples in all nations. As the power of the gospel continues to make more extensive inroads and subject more peoples to its sway, the millennium will gradually come into being. And this millennium will then be a period of time when Christianity is dominant in the world and the true religion the faith of most men. In this way the Kingdom of Christ will be realized here in the world before Christ comes again. The second coming of Christ will be therefore, not a coming in which the kingdoms of this world are destroyed and the kingdom of heaven established through the catastrophe of final destruction; rather the kingdom of Christ is already established, and it only remains for Christ to come to take the kingdom to Himself.
This however, is the more conservative view of the millennium as maintained by the posts.
There is a far more liberal and popular view also. This view teaches that we must not even look for the coming of Christ upon the clouds of heaven, for we are sadly mistaken if we expect a personal return of the Lord. It won’t happen. Rather, the coming of the millennium is itself the coming of Christ. As gradually the kingdom emerges from the struggles of our times, as order comes forth out of chaos, as peace arises out of war, the kingdom of Christ is realized here upon earth, and this realization is itself Christ’s coming. He comes in no other way than through the establishment of heaven upon earth.
Thus the kingdom of Christ comes through evolution. When I used the term “evolution” here, I do not mean particularly the biological evolution which teaches that all living forms of life evolved out of lower forms of life; that man came from the animals. This evolution is beside the point. (Although, strikingly, there is an increased tendency in our day to connect the two. This tendency insists that evolutionary processes are still at work, that man is still on a ladder reaching to higher forms of life. This continual biological improvement will bring about a superior man in a superior creation. In fact, I have recently read a book written by a theologian in which he advocates just such a view. And he insists that man, through evolution will become God. It is also striking that the concessions made by the church today to evolutionistic thought are closely connected with the drift of the church towards postmillennialism. But this by way of parenthesis.) The kind of evolution I refer to particularly is social, economic, political evolution.
The idea is that in every area of life man is getting better and better. Socially, the problems which confront man are solvable and are being solved. Racial tensions, poverty, broken homes, crime, delinquency, etc. are gradually being overcome so that we shall presently reach a time when all these ills are rooted out of society and their evils eradicated. Economically, there shall be, through the growth of industrialization, an affluent society which is able to provide not only life’s necessities for all men, but also life’s luxuries. Leisure time, freedom from the sweat of daily toil, release from the bitter drudgery of long days spent in difficult manual labor—all these shall bring growth in culture and increase in opportunity for pleasure. Politically, world-wide tensions shall cease and governments established which are agreeable to all. War shall be, no more for men shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and they shall not study war any more. Instead a world-wide kingdom shall emerge which shall guarantee peace and freedom to all men.
Making all these things possible are the advances of science. For it is science and its power to subdue the powers of the creation that brings a universal kingdom of peace and plenty. Science conquers and harnesses the creation to make it subservient to man. Science advances industrialization and technology to bring plenty and prosperity to all the earth. Science plunges into the far reaches of the universe to bring even distant space into man’s hands. Science invents drugs and medicines with which to conquer disease and even death itself. Science is the key to the millennium. The scientist can open the door. Advance science, and all is well.
Behind all this development however, stands the church. The church gives direction to the thrusts of progress and the advancement of man. The church leads the way in conquering social ills. The church points to the moral and spiritual goals for which men shall strive. And the church is entrusted with the task of bringing about revival so that men turn to God and to religion. Under girding this tremendous advance on every front, pointing the way, giving moral direction and support, the church leads the way to the millennium. But it is a cooperative venture. It is a vast combination of forces striving towards the same goal. Hand in hand, the church, the government, social agencies, scientists, push on to bring heaven on earth and the kingdom through the evolution of social forces.
That this is indeed the goal of men is evident today as it never was before. A heady optimism fills men with lofty visions of the future. Everyone speaks of the fact that we are on the right road—the road of improvement. True, there are set-backs and obstacles. There are these nasty wars that must still be fought. There are indications that crime and delinquency are on the increase. There is a steady decay in morals and growth in immorality. There is still tension between the races. But these are nagging problems which only slow slightly the mighty advance of mankind. And some of them we will overcome, while others we will adjust to. On the whole and given a broader perspective, we are advancing.
And so ministers march in Selma; the church gives its blessing and offers its aid to the war on poverty; church and state unite in a strenuous effort towards peace. And further, the spirit of revival is in the air. Missionaries swarm into every country and evangelists criss-cross the continent so that religion may become a part of the life of all men. And if it all doesn’t quite work, then theology and the gospel can be adjusted to fit the changing times and to become relevant to man who stands on the threshold of the millennium.
It is worth our attention at this point to note that “common grace” also fits handily into this general scheme. I am referring now, not so much to the general offer of salvation to all men which common grace teaches; but rather to the fact that through an internal restraint of sin in the hearts of all men, all men are able to perform a great deal of good in the world. This erases the antithesis and makes common ground between the people of God and the people of the world. There is room for cooperation, common ground upon which both can stand; there is opportunity to join hands and walk together in the cause of alleviation of moral wrong and social ill; there is common purpose in life, common goals for which to strive. And so common grace is but a small step from this disastrous view of a post-millennial coming of Christ. While perhaps the advocates of common grace would repudiate any charge of post-millennialism, history has shown that this is really impossible.
Nor, basically, is there any essential difference in this respect between what in our day is called “the left wing” and the “right wing.” True their methods differ radically. True even that the kind of millennium they envision is different at some key points. But both are dedicated to an improvement of the world; Both are intent on guiding the course of events and overcoming what is wrong; although they may differ, as to what change precisely ought to be made.
The result, so appealing to man, is a day when, in an earthly sense, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.
Let us take a little time to criticize this general teaching, for it is destructive of the faith. What are the objections that we can advance against this view?
One thing is very clear. All of this involves a denial of the clear testimony of Scripture concerning the character of the days which precede the coming of Christ. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that this world will get better and better. Scripture does speak of a day when a kingdom shall be realized on this earth which is, from the point of view of sinful man, a very wonderful kingdom. But this is the kingdom of Antichrist, not Christ. It shall be a kingdom in which the dominant energy is the power of sin and hatred of God. It shall be a kingdom where the truth of God is thrown to the winds, where the Word of God is completely distorted to serve the purposes of sinful man. It shall be a kingdom where the faithful are persecuted for there will be no room in it for the Church of Christ.
It is to be feared that it is for this kingdom that the church today is striving.
But Scripture draws a very dismal and dark picture of the world in the days prior to Christ’s coming. It speaks not of revival, but of apostasy so that there are only very few left who maintain the truth and represent the cause of God. It speaks, not of a mass return to the gospel, but of a mass falling away from the faith. And in connection with this, Scripture does not hold before our eyes a world in which men become better and better; rather God’s Word speaks of increase in sin, greater corruption, and a filling of the cup of iniquity until the world becomes ripe for judgment.
It is important to note in this connection that the whole error of post-millennialism is the confusion of outward reformation with inward renewal. Outward reform is adequate to produce the Christian man, while inward regeneration is ignored. If only social ills are eradicated, a Christian man is produced living in a Christian society. Turn a man from crime and persuade him to abandon his dissolute life and you have achieved the aim of the church’s calling. But this is nothing else but a denial of the reality of sin within the heart and of the need of the blood of the cross.
It is like a doctor that treats cancer by changing the yellow coloring of the skin through skin grafting.
In close connection with this, those who promote post-millennial views run the danger of losing the gospel of Christ for a social gospel. That this is a very real danger is evident today where ministers no longer expound the Word of God in their sermons, but rather make homilies on social problems.
And through it all runs the current of the denial of Christ’s coming. Some deny this coming of Christ outright. They are the open and outspoken post-millennialists. Others do not want to admit their postmillennialism, and want to maintain a certain return of Christ upon the clouds of heaven. And so they push this coming of Christ so far into the future that it means absolutely nothing. They are not “watching and praying;” they are busy working for something else because they are totally unaffected by and indifferent to the coming of the Lord.
And yet all these things do not really touch upon the heart of the trouble. There is one fundamental error which characterizes all this post-millennialism—an error which, to my mind, is chief.
I speak of the rule of Christ over all things.
We believe that Christ is exalted in heaven. This exaltation means that Christ is given, at the Father’s right hand, the authority to rule over all the works of God. Christ rules supremely, and in the name of the Father, over all things. He, now in His exalted position, executes the Father’s counsel and carries out the Father’s purpose. Providence is worked through the exalted Christ. The reins of the universe are given to Him who is Lord over all.
This implies several things.
It implies, in the first place, that Christ is working all things in order that He may come again. Everything which Christ does is aimed towards His coming again at the end of the age. He works in order that He may return to establish His kingdom.
Secondly, this implies that Christ’s rule is absolutely universal. He rules over all things. And this “all things” must be taken in the strictest possible sense of the word. Christ rules over all the brute creation—stars, trees, worms, birds, everything. But He also rules over all men and over all angels and over all devils. Nothing is outside His rule. Nothing escapes His supreme authority. Nothing is exempt from the power of His universal scepter. He rules in the name of the sovereign God over all the works of God as Lord of lords and King of kings.
And it is here that we touch upon the heart of the matter.
Those who are addicted to some form of postmillennialism interpret this rule of Christ (if they speak of it at all; not speaking of it has the same consequences) as being exactly the same in every respect whether that rule be over the wicked or the righteous. They do not make a distinction. They confuse the rule of Christ. They distort it and corrupt it through failure to understand it.
But there is a very fundamental difference. There is a difference in the way in which Christ rules. A difference which must never be lost sight of. The difference is this: Christ rules over the wicked men and over devils in such a way that, while He remains the sovereign Lord, they serve Him against their will. They rebel against Christ, fight against His rule and seek to destroy His kingdom. They rage against God and Christ and seek to cast His yoke from them. But all this wicked rebellion does not alter the fact that they are still so many servants of Christ who can do nothing but what Christ works and what God has eternally determined. Christ rules over them through their rebellion so that in their rebellion, even though they oppose His kingdom, they still serve God’s purpose.
But this is not the way Christ rules over His people. He rules over them in such a way that they become thewilling subjects of His kingdom. He rules over them by changing their hearts, bending their wills, redeeming and saving them so that they bow willingly before Him and acknowledge Christ as their Lord. They are, through the rule of Christ in their hearts, the loyal citizens of the kingdom, loyal soldiers of the cross.
This fundamental difference strikes into this world the antithesis. There is a yawning and unbridgeable chasm between the righteous and the wicked. There is a deep cleavage struck between the people of God and the citizens of this world. And make no mistake about it: this chasm is the result of Christ’s sovereign rule. The righteous and the wicked are at odds with each other. Their entire life, from a spiritual point of view, is different. Their goals, their aims, their aspirations, their dreams, their hopes are different and mutually exclusive. What they do in the world is a stream flowing from the antithesis so that they are constantly on different ground. Thus there is no room for cooperation, no common ground for standing together in a common cause. For the Church does not look for the kingdom to come in this world, nor for a heaven on earth. They look for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. They are, and that willingly, enjoined by the injunctions of Scripture in their calling, and limited to Scripture’s descriptions of the realities of life in the fulfillment of that calling.
Such is the truth which we must maintain at all costs in this day and age.