THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
THE CHURCH NOT THE KINGDOM
We object to the pre-millenarian theory because its definition of the kingdom of Christ makes it an institution altogether different from the Church, and entirely in the future. A glance at the diagram will show the church as coming to an end on the earth before the kingdom is set up. The Chiliast represents the kingdom as coming only at the descent of the King in person, and as then set up suddenly by almightiness without the aid of human-agency. But when we look into the New Testament, we find no such difference in the use of the terms "Church" and "kingdom." They seem to be used interchangeably. The kingdom is to be established by preaching, and it is to develop gradually till its ultimate triumph. The generation to whom John the Baptist and Christ preached, were urged to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. We fail to see the cogency of this motive if the kingdom was not to be set up till after 1,800 or 18,000 years. St. Paul writes a thanksgiving epistle to the Colossians in which he expresses his gratitude to the Father "who hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." Christ himself spoke of the kingdom of God as within, or among, His hearers. The disciples were taught to pray for its complete triumph on the earth. Parables illustrative of its slow progress, but ultimate universality, were spoken. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard-seed, which becomes a tree so great that the birds lodge in the branches. The astonishing development of Christ's kingdom from small beginnings through long ages is here plainly taught. It is perfectly puerile to assume that these birds are foul birds of prey, symbolizing the gigantic corruptions of the Christian Church! Yet we have again and again met with this exegesis in the writings of modern millenarians.
In Christ's comparison of the kingdom to leaven deposited in the meal, He intended to teach the gradual diffusion, the pervasive and assimilative power, and the universal prevalence of the kingdom of heaven. Every unprejudiced reader, even in the infant Sunday-school, sees His meaning in the parable. How do the Chiliasts dispose of this parable? The wise ones do as the Scotch preacher did with a passage which he could not harmonize with predestination: "My brethren, let us look this verse square in the face and pass on." But some millenarians are not wise enough to follow so good an example, but confidently expound it thus: "Leaven is always used in the Bible to represent evil or corruption." Hence in the language of Rev. H. M. Parsons: "The parable of the leaven represents the results which will be manifested in the same kingdom during the age from the corruptions introduced by those who are within the Church. The meal will be leavened with heresies and perversions during all this dispensation."
Well may Dean Alford say: "It will be seen that such an interpretation cannot for a moment stand, on its own ground; but much less when we connect it with the parable of the mustard-seed. The two are intimately related. The latter was of the inherent, self-developing power of the kingdom of heaven as a seed containing in itself the principle of expansion; the former (the leaven) represents the power which it possesses of penetrating and assimilating a foreign mass, till all be taken up into it. This gifted annotator, a strong Chiliast, but not run mad with millenarian vagaries, proceeds at length to show the power of the Gospel leaven (1) to penetrate the whole mass of humanity, and (2) the transforming power of the "new leaven" on the whole being of individuals. Says Trench: "In fact, the parable does nothing less than set forth to us the mystery of regeneration, both in its first act, which can be but once, as the leaven is but once hidden; and also in the consequent renewal of the Holy Spirit, which, as the interior working of the leaven, is continual and progressive." Thus we array these scholarly and sober expositors against the strange and erroneous exegesis of millenarians so intent on removing a difficult text out of their way that they foist upon it a meaning never intended by Christ, in order to make Him teach their doleful doctrine, that the church is becoming more and more corrupt, the world is hopelessly ship wrecked, and the pentecostal dispensation is a stupendous failure. From such a dismal view of Christianity, and from such a misinterpretation of a plain parable, giving a hopeful view of the expansion and universal prevalence of the kingdom of heaven established by Christ, we beg to be delivered.
We believe with Neander that the relation of the Church to the kingdom is that of a species to a genus, or of a part to a whole. The Church is the kingdom begun.
The millenarian conception of the earthly kingdom of Christ, entirely different from His present spiritual reign in the Church, is strikingly like the Jewish idea of the Messianic kingdom, founded on a literal interpretation of the prophecies. If their gross literalism is at last to be realized in an earthly and visible kingdom, we do not see the culpability of the Jews in rejecting the Nazarene, who failed to exhibit those signs of Messiahship when their own prophets had taught them to expect when His kingdom should be set up. For it has been well said that there is no perspective in prophecy. Hence it was absolutely impossible for the Jews to discriminate between Christ's first coming to found His Church, and His second advent to found His kingdom. The brightness of the earthly kingdom so entirely eclipsed the colorless, spiritual kingdom, or Church, that the Hebrew nation seems to be justified in discarding the spiritual kingship of Jesus Christ, who was attended by no such signs of world-wide temporal dominion as the millenarians now find in the Old Testament prophecies. But there is no such vindication of the Jews possible, because their culpability lies in the fact that while there is but one kingdom of Christ on earth, and that is spiritual, they were, as a nation, not dwelling in those spiritual attitudes which would have enabled them to view the Star of Bethlehem in its true character, undimmed by the clouds of sensuality and worldliness. Hence, on the commonly-received view that the Church is the spiritual kingdom of Christ, and the only kingdom which He will establish on earth, the ancient and modern Jews have no excuse. On the theory of the Chiliast, they have an excuse for rejecting Him who came to them without the prophetic insignia of a king.
NO MOTIVE FOR A JEW TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST
Another very curious fact in the millenarian scheme is that the nearer the Second Advent, the less influential is it to induce in the Jew submission to Christ. Let me amplify this point: My commission is to preach the Gospel to every creature. This includes the Jews. Let me suppose that I have a congregation of Hebrews whom I wish to lead to Christ. My first effort would be to gain an intellectual assent to the proposition that Jesus is the true Messiah, by reasoning with them in Pauline style out of the Scriptures. Having produced an intellectual conviction, I should next proceed to sway their wills to an immediate acceptance of the Nazarene as their personal Saviour. What would be my great argument?. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." My Israelites, in terror, ask me if this is a final and irreversible sentence for disobedience to Christ. I tell them, with tears, that it is even so. Under the power of the Spirit attending the Word, some are constrained to bow the knee to Christ crucified who had been a stumbling-block to them all their lives. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, I have saved some. But suppose I had called in a millenarian to do this critical work of presenting motives to sway their stubborn Jewish wills? His course of argument would be thus: Repent of your sins, and receive Jesus as your Saviour and Lord because He is soon coming to set up a kingdom, gathering the Jews, at least a third of them, to Jerusalem, where they will all be suddenly converted and be the chief promoters of His kingdom among the Gentiles. "How long," ask they, "before this great event?" "It may occur to-day; all the signs indicate that it is near," is the answer. "If this is so, we think that we will not put ourselves to the inconvenience and suffering of the persecution of our brethren for embracing Jesus. We will wait and take our chances of being alive and of being converted en masse when Jesus comes. This will be easier, and will be attended by no persecution by a stubborn remainder. Thus the nearer the Second Advent, the less is its motive power for the Jew to believe in Christ.
Can such a system of doctrine be true which thus weakens the grand motive to evangelical faith? The common, or orthodox, view of the second coming of Christ to pass final sentence upon the race, affords just as great inducements to repent to the Jew as to the Gentile, and the motive in both cases is intensified by the near approach of the Judge eternal.
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