THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
ELECT NUMBER OF THE GENTILES
Having shown that the personal reign of Christ for a thousand years before the general judgment is not found in Rev. xx., we proceed to examine other passages in the New Testament perpetually quoted as proofs of Chiliasm. Matt. xix. 28 is literally expounded by Chiliasts, and the "regeneration" is explained as the new order of things on the earth after Christ has set up a visible throne. Then the twelve apostles are to have inferior thrones, or governorships, over the twelve tribes of Israel. In answer to this we cannot do better than to condense the comment of Dr. Whedon, one of the rlpest Greek scholars in America, and second to none as an exegete: The words "in the regeneration" are in contrast with "in my temptations" in the parallel passage in Luke xxii. 28-30. The contrasted periods are before His death and after His ascension, when the Church was renewed and regenerated from the old to the new dispensation. Then Jesus would sit on the throne of his glory at the right hand of the Majesty on high till He shall, on the same throne, descend to judge the world. The twelve apostles were to receive twelve apostolates, or thrones--not thrones of glory--symbolizing the fact that Christ is King over Israel, and that the New Testament kingdom is only another form of the Old Testament Church. Then follows, in verse 29, a promise of the hundred-fold now in this time (Mark x. 30), with persecutions, showing that the time spoken of when the twelve should enjoy their apostolates, or sit on their spiritual thrones, is during their present lives, after which they will receive life everlasting. Hence we are living in the regeneration, or new dispensation. Another text, quoted in nearly every paper read in the Prophetic Conference, as a proof that the whole world is not to be converted under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, but only a definite number--the Bride of Christ--is Rom. xi. 25. The word "fullness," Dr. E. R. Craven, and the Millenarians generally, interpret as the completion of the definite "elect number of the Gentiles" who are to be saved; if but a thousand, then the nine hundred and ninety-nine saved persons lack but one to complete the fullness. Since quite a parade has been made of the great scholarship of the millenarians, we, in Pauline style, in self-defense, wish to magnify the scholarship on our side.
Our limits forbid giving Meyer's extended note. We insert only his conclusion: "A part of Israel is hardened, until the Gentiles collectively shall have come in, and when that shall have taken place, then all Israel will be saved. The conversion of the Gentiles ensues by successive stages; but when their totality shall be converted, then the conversion of the Jews in their totality will ensue; so that Paul sees the latter (which up to that epoch certainly also advances gradually in individual cases) ensuing, after the full conversion of the Gentiles, as the event completing the assemblage of the Church and accomplishing itself, probably, in rapid development. All this, therefore, is before the Parousia (personal coming), not; by means of it." The italics are Meyer's. Turning to Dr. Robinson's Lexicon, we find him defining pleroma (fullness), in his text, as "all the multitude of the Gentiles." But lest Dr. Robinson may be considered obsolete, we turn to Cremer's Biblico-Theological Lexicon, 1878, fresh from the living author. His rendering is, "the totality or completeness of the Gentiles," under the same sub-heading of definitions as "the fullness of the God-head"--"the sum total of all that God is." After this presentation of the latest and most erudite researches into the meaning of this text, the challenge of the Prophetic Conference to produce one proof-text for the conversion of the entire world under the present dispensation, does not exhibit an acquaintance with the best sacred scholarship of the age.
RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS
Another text, supposed beyond all dispute to contain an unanswerable proof of Chiliasm, is Acts iii. 21. We are told that "the restitution of all things" is the renovation of the earth at the second coming of Christ. But how can all things be restored so long as the vast majority of the dead are in their graves during a thousand years? The word "restitution" in the Greek is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It is, therefore, of doubtful meaning. But the cognate verb is used in Matt. xvii. 11: "Elias shall first come and restore all things." Christ declares that "Elias has already come." But did he restore all things in the sense thrust upon the derivative noun by millenarians? John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ fulfilled all things spoken concerning him by the prophets. Now read Acts iii. 21, substituting fulfillment for restitution, and see how complete is the sense and how perfect the harmony with the next verse: "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of the fulfillment of all things spoken of by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers," etc. Whatever is the meaning of the word "restitution," the work must be completed before Christ comes, not by His coming. Says Meyer: "Before the times set in which all things will be restored, Christ comes not from heaven. Consequently the age to come cannot be meant; but only such times as shall precede the Parousia, and by the emergence of which it is conditioned that the Parousia shall ensue." "Christ's reception into heaven continues--this is the idea of the apostle -- untll the moral corruption of the people of God is removed, and the thorough renovation of all their relations shall have ensued." Even Bengel can find no foothold for millenarianism in this speech of Peter. "Peter comprises the whole course of the times of the New Testament between the Ascension of the Lord and His Advent in glory, times in which that apostolic age shines forth pre-eminent (ver. 24), as also corresponding to the condition of the Church, which was to be constituted of Jews and Gentiles together. Justas Jonas says, "Christ is that King, who has now received heaven, reigning in the meantime through the Gospel in the Spirit until all things be restored, i.e., until the remainder of the Jews and Gentiles be converted.'" Bengel seems to endorse Jonas. This certainly teaches that the world is to be converted before the Advent, and not by it.
WHY CHRIST DELAYS HIS COMING
Now let us turn to the third chapter of the second epistle of Peter for a commentary on his meaning in Acts iii. 21. He gives in this chapter an answer to the scoffers who say, "Where is the (fulfilled) promise of His coming?" He then gives two reasons for Christ's delay in coming to burn up the earth and the works therein, namely: (1) The different conception of time in the divine Mind, a thousand years being as one day; and (2) the long-suffering of God in affording a further space for repentance. From this second reason the inference is irresistible that there will be no chance for repentance unto salvation after Christ's advent. If this be so, what becomes of the theory that He will come to supersede the dispensation of the Paraclete by the establishment of a dispensation in which Jews and Gentiles will be converted in a wholesale way?
If a thousand people were perishing on an ocean steamer wrecked at the entrance of the harbor of New York, and a small dory were rescuing two or three at a time while a well -equipped, life-saving government steamer was lying in sight of the wreck, could it be believed that the commander delayed to hasten to help the unfortunate, through his excessive compassion for them? This is the exact attitude of Christ towards a perishing world according to millenarianism, purposing to institute a dispensation more favorable to the salvation of the lost world, and delaying out of pity!
When we ask why does Christ delay His coming to set up a more effective scheme of salvation, we are told that this question is like the conundrum, why did not God create the world sooner? But Peter has answered our question in a way which grinds millenarianism to powder. He delays through a long-suffering which implies that He will come, not to save, but to condemn; not to set up a visible kingdom on the earth, but to wind up His mediatorial reign and deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father. This is what St. Paul avers will be done at the second advent (1 Cor. xv. 23, 24). Also contrast John iii. 16, 17; xii. 47, with Matt. xxv. 31-46; 2 Thess. i. 6-10.
I have discussed this subject from a sense of duty to my fellow-Christians. I believe that the general prevalence of pre-millennialism would be disastrous to the best interests of the Kingdom of Christ, now being spread over the earth by the joint agency of the Holy Spirit and consecrated believers. The command, "Grieve not the Spirit," cannot be fully kept by any person whose theories belittle His efficiency in the work of His office. Nor can any man put forth his best endeavors while distrusting the agency with which he co-works and looking for a superior one soon to appear. Against all the disclaimers of diminished zeal for the evangelization of the whole world, put forth by pessimists of the Second Advent school, they fail to convince me that men, how ever good, will ever exert themselves to the utmost to prove themselves false prophets.
This is contrary to human nature even in its highest state of grace. Gen. Grant would have failed to conquer Gen. Lee, if he had believed it impossible.
As to the premillennial features discussed in this work, no more fitting words in conclusion can be given than those with which David Brown (of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown fame) closes the Fourth Edition of his "Christ's Second Coming" (procurable second hand of James Robinson, Manchester, Eng.):--
"I have shown, I think, under a number of heads, that the premillennial scheme is at variance with the Word of God; that it proceeds upon crude and arbitrary principles of interpretation, while it shrinks from carrying out even these to their legitimate results; that as a system it wants coherence, and is palpably defective, making no provision for some of the most important events which are to occur in the history of the race; and that its bearing on some of the most precious doctrines of God's Word is painful and perilous.
"These are strong things to say. Could I have taken the view of this system which many do who never examined it, --that it is a harmless one, which it matters little whether we embrace or reject,--I have too much dislike to oppose brethren in the common salvation to have sent forth such a volume as this. It is because I saw in it ELEMENTS WHICH AT ONCE FASCINATE THE CARNAL AND ATTRACT THE SPIRITUAL that I thought it of consequence to sift it."
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