THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
I. CHRIST'S PRELIMINARY COMINGS.
Modern premillennialism is unscriptural in its views of Christ's millennial coming and of the millennium.
Its views of Christ's millennial coming are unscriptural in these particulars, viz.: That it will be in the body; that it was imminent 1800 years ago; that it is now imminent; that it will be the panacea for all political and social evils, and will introduce a new dispensation for the conversion of the world, or of such remnants of the nations as somehow shall have escaped the fiery judgments of His second advent.
That Christ will come again in like manner as He went up into heaven, has ever been, and, with individual exception, is now the faith of the Church. But the Scriptures plainly teach other comings of the Lord Christ, and other modes of coming.
The argument here is:--
1. Christ is the Lord in both Testaments, the Old and the New.
2. Christ the Lord has often come potentially in extraordinary mercies and judgments.
3. His millennial coming will be of this class.
The first proposition is conceded by evangelical Christians, and needs no proof here. The second and third are to be proven from the Scriptures.
To understand the prophets we must consider their terms, style, and time.
God is said to be everywhere. Yet the inspired writers speak of His absence; His coming and going; His forsaking and returning.
God is a spirit. But often He is represented as having the members of a human body, and as acting as a man, and even as a lion, a bear, a bird. As a man of war He has a camp, an army to which He utters His voice, and which He musters to battle. Of men is His army sometimes composed, but in Joel, ii. 11, 25, it is of locusts, caterpillars and worms. He rises up and goes before His army. He lays siege to cities and destroys them, while others He defends and delivers.
If now an extreme literalist who boasts that he takes the Bible just as it reads, interpret these representations in a materialistic sense, and accept the idea that God is a great man, consistency demands that when He is spoken of as acting as a lion, a bear, a bird, he should devoutly believe and confess that his God is a real beast or bird.
But sober criticism finds itself compelled to interpret these terms metaphorically, the key thereto being the two little words "as if." God has done and will do "as if" a man, a lion, a bear, did thus. In Hosea xii. 10, God says: "I have spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets."
This shows that God is represented as saying and doing what His agents say and do by His inspiration, and also that His prophets and teachers by His inspiration used similitudes. This premillenialists themselves admit--on occasions. Thus, for example, Doctors Jamieson and Fausset, on Ezek. xxxviii, say:--
"The prophetic delineations of the Saviour's principles of government are thrown into the familiar forms of Old Testament relations. The final triumph of the Messiah's truth over the distant nations is represented as a literal conflict, on a gigantic scale, Israel being the battle-field. It is a prophetic parable, i.e., similitude."
Personality and materiality are by no means identical. God is a spiritual personality, but not a material person. So when we speak of the personal coming and reign of Christ, we do not necessarily mean his bodily coming and reign. In addition to, and vastly different from, Christ's first and second bodily descents from heaven, the Scrip tures frequently speak of other comings, and of these, two classes occupy chiefly the attention of the sacred writers, viz: His spiritual and judicial comings.
These are not limited to any dispensation, but are common to all, not peculiar to prophecy but frequent in history, and that the history of individuals and of the Church, as well as of cities and nations. Consider a few cases of His coming and dwelling upon the earth.
"I will come and dwell among you," was the supreme promise and bliss of the old covenant, Ex. xxix. 42-46. "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit," Is., lvii. 15. The supreme promise of the New Testament is: "If a man love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him," John xiv. 23. "If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me ," Rev. iii. 20.
But this glory--God with man--was too great to be apprehended without sensible manifestation. Hence the pillar of fire and cloud at the opening of the Mosaic dispensation, and through the forming period of the Jewish Church, and its occasional appearance in their history to the sad hour of its departure from the Temple, just before both were given over to the desolation of the Babylonian captivity. Hence also the return of that "Glory of the Lord" at the birth of Christ and at Pentecost. The appearing of that fiery token was the recognized sign of God's presence -- the Epiphany -- the manifestation of His presence.
At the dedication of the Tabernacle Moses said: "To-day the Lord will appear," and immediately changed the expression to "The glory of the Lord shall appear unto you" (Lev. ix. 4-6). The Holy Spirit was the executive of the Godhead as truly in the Jewish, as He is in the Christian Church. God left them and returned to them and abode with them by the Holy Spirit--"His presence."
But this "Glory of the Lord,"--this same fiery cloudy pillar--had also its dark side, the symbol of woe. It was a cloud of darkness to the Egyp tians, but it gave light to His people. In the morning watch the Lord looked upon the Egyptians through the fiery cloud, and they fled to their doom, crying: "The Lord fighteth against the Egyptians" (Ex. xiv. 19-25).
Here at the very beginning of the history of the Church is an example and key to all subsequent prophetic visions which represent God as fighting for His people against their enemies.
Hence the Psalmist, xcvii. 1-5:--
"The Lord reigneth ....
Clouds and darkness are round about him;
Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His
A fire goeth before him,
And burneth up His adversaries round about.
His lightnings lightened the world:
The earth saw, and trembled.
The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord."
In Is. lxiv. 3, God's action is spoken of as a "coming": --
"When Thou didst terrible things which we looked not for,
Thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence.
To Moses, God said: "I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and am come down to deliver them." Later He added: "I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the first-born." And he did. How? By His death angel, the plague. To Israel, God said: "When I see the blood I will pass over you." And He did. How? By exempting them from the plague, as He said: "The plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt."
Another example is in the destruction of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom, b.c. 721, and the deliverance of Jerusalem and Judah soon after. The Samaritan Kingdom began in sin, and had been a constant menace to God's cause and people. God warned them by His prophets, and they represented that destruction as His leaving them and coming in judgments.
By Hosea, God said: "I will be unto Ephraim as a lion .... I, even I, will tear and go away. . . I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence" (v. 14-15).
By Amos: "I will pass through the midst of thee," "and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, 0 Israel" (v. 7, and iv. 12).
By Micah: "The Lord cometh forth out of His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire .... Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field" (i. 3-6).
Last of all Isaiah gave warning, and described the mode: "The Lord shall rise up as in Perazim" (xxviii. 21). And how did the Lord rise up in Perazim? The allusion is to the overthrow of the Philistines gathered to dispute David's sovereignty, in 1 Chr. xiv. 9-17. To David's inquiry, God said: "When thou hearest the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry-trees, then shalt thou go out to battle; for God is gone out be fore thee to smite the host of the Philistines." David obeyed, and declared of the event: "God hath broken mine enemies by mine hand, like the breach of waters." God does what His agents do at His command.
All these predictions of God's destructive "comings" to Samaria and its Kingdom were fulfilled within a few years of Isaiah's warning. How? By the Assyrian armies, who made Samaria desolate and destroyed the Northern Kingdom. Thus did the Lord come down and tread upon "the high places of the earth," and punish the apostate people.
But another side was there to Micah's prophecy, a mercy side of the Lord's coming. Micah had said in the symbolic style of the prophets: "The Lord will come down. And the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire." Having destroyed the Northern Kingdom the Assyrians turned to Southern Palestine, and having wasted it, threatened Jerusalem.
In this situation the perils to God's church were depicted as mountains. Hezekiah and his people were as kids in the paw of the lion. But they cried to God, and Isaiah thus records his prayer: --
"Oh Lord ! . . .
Return for Thy servants' sake ....
Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down,"
"That the mountains might flow down at thy presence, . . .
To make Thy name known to thine adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Thy presence."
(Is. lxiii. 17, and lxiv. 1-3.)
Is there a passage in all the Scriptures which seems more explicitly to assert a literal coming of the Lord than does this? But did the prophet really mean that the God-man Jesus Christ would actually rend the heavens and visibly appear? Not if one will read the next sentence :--
"When Thou did'st terrible things which we looked not for,
Thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at Thy
Will the literalist attempt to show when and where the God-man came down, and the material mountains flowed down at his presence? Did God answer that prayer? He did, having first promised: --
"Like as when the lion growleth and the young lion over his prey, . . .
So shall the Lord of Hosts come down to fight upon Mount Zion,
And upon the hill thereof.
As birds flying, so will the Lord of Hosts protect Jerusalem;
He will protect and deliver it."
Repeated was this promise, and its fulfilment recorded, by Isaiah (xxxvii. 35-36) :--
"I will defend this city to save it,
For mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake."
"And the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand." Here was an exact fulfilment of the promise, "The Lord of Hosts shall come down to fight upon Mount Zion; He will protect and deliver it." How? Not in the person of the God-man, but by His death angel. According to Hibbard, Houbigant, Hengstenberg, and Alexander, Psalm xlvi. was written in commemoration of this overthrow of Sennacherib. Read it and see how inspiration speaks of that event :--
"God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change,
And though the mountains be moved in the heart of the
seas; . . .
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved:
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of Hosts is with us:
The God of Jacob is our refuge."
Another example of God's judicial withdrawing and returning is in the prophecy and history of the Babylonian exile and restoration. That history shows: --
1. God leaving His people, and delivering them to punishment in Babylon.
2. God returning and reigning over them at Jerusalem.
3. God coming to punish Babylon, and thus redeeming His people Zion by visiting terrible things on their enemies.
Isaiah had said (i. 27): "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment." Not now by the blood of the covenant, but by the blood of her oppressors. Look at the testimony in its order of time. Because of their irreclaimable apostasy, God said:-
..." I will utterly forget you,
And I will cast you off,
And the city that I gave unto you and to your fathers,
Away from my presence." (Jer. xxiii. 39.)
Eleven years later the Lord gave to Ezekiel a view of the visible sign of His presence departing from the Holy of Holies, to the gate of the Temple, then over the city, and then from the city. What did this mean? God answered (Jer. xii. 7):--
"I have forsaken my house,
I have cast off my heritage;
I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the
hand of her enemies."
So Jeremiah understood it, for in tears he wrote (vii. 29): "The Lord hath rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath." To that whole generation this meant the suspension of all saving power in their sacrifices and offerings, with the cessation of answers to their prayer, in these terrible words (Jer. xiv. 10-12):--
"Pray not for this people for their good.
When they fast--I will not hear their cry;
And when they offer burnt offering and oblation- I
will not accept them.
But I will consume them by the sword,
And by the famine, and by the pestilence."
This was God's answer to the prayer of agony wrung from the heart of Jeremiah: "0 Lord, leave us not!" This meant that their day of mercy as a nation was passed, and their day of judgment at hand. God's bribeless executioners, war, pestilence, and famine were beginning their work of retribution.
But a remnant was true to God. By a vision it was made known that though they might go to Babylon with the bad, yet because of their integrity it should be for their good. To such He said (Jer. xxiv. 1-7):--
"I will bring them again to this land;
And I will build them, . . .
And I will plant them, . . .
And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am
And they shall be my people, and I will be their God;
For they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
Repeated was this promise (Jer. xxix. 10-13) :--
"After seventy years be accomplished for Babylon,
I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you,
In causing you to return to this place ....
And ye shall seek me, and find me,
When ye shall search for me with all your heart."
This was the hope of the Church in Babylon all the dreary years of that captivity, and just one year before the edict of restoration the Spirit of God touched the heart of His Psalmist, and he wrote (Ps. l. 3-5) :--
"Our God shall come, . . .
He shall call to the heavens above,
And to the earth, . . .
Gather my saints together unto me."
Similarly another (cii. 13) :--
"Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion;
For it is time to have pity upon her, yea, the set time
Shortly came the decree for the restoration, b.c. 536, and soon the returning exiles were building at Jerusalem, though many remained in Babylon. Then by the prophet (Zech. ii. 6-10) God sent to them this call: --
Flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord; . . .
Ho, Zion, escape,
Thou that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon...
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion;
For, lo, I come,
And I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord."
In the same year, according to Bagster's chronology, b.c. 519, God spake to this same prophet (Zech. i. 16-17):--
"I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies;
My house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of Hosts, . . .
My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad;
And the Lord shall yet comfort Zion,
And shall yet choose Jerusalem."
A year later this is repeated (Zech. viii. 3) :--
"I am returned unto Zion,
And will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem."
The glory of this revelation of God to His church is unfolded in the same chapter, and its effect upon the heathen, the nations, is thus announced. Men of all nations will say (Zech. viii. 23): "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
Here is a coming of the Lord, and His presence with His people, and His dwelling and reigning with and over them at Jerusalem and the cities round about. This all results in the awakening and attraction of men of all languages to them by the manifested presence of God with them.
Will any one affirm this to refer to the material presence, the bodily coming of the God-man, he must do so in direct contradiction to God's own explanation of the case by the prophet Haggai, who was an actor at the time. (Hag. ii. 15.) As they were building at Jerusalem, the word of the Lord came to them, thus:--
"Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord;
And be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest;
And be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work;
For I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts;
According to the word that I covenanted with you
When ye came out of Egypt.
And my spirit abideth (marg.) among you;
Fear ye not.''
This covenant upon coming out of Egypt was in these words: "My presence shall go with you;" and here He says that, according to that covenant, He was with the builders at Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, and that He had come by His Spirit to build up Zion.
But consider also the dark side of this coming of the Lord. God said He would visit Babylon, and He did by terrible things, and this was the retributive side of His coming at the restoration or redemption of His people from their captivity in Babylon (Hag. ii. 21, 22).
By Jeremiah (1. 31, 32) God said to Babylon: --
"Thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee.
And the proud one shall stumble and fall."
Similarly Isaiah (xiii. 1, 5): --
"The Lord of Hosts mustereth the host for battle.
They come from a far country.
From the uttermost part of heaven,
Even the Lord, and the weapons of His indignation,
To destroy the whole land."
Who come? "The Lord and the weapons of His indignation." Who were the weapons of His indignation? Verse 17 answers: "I will stir up the Medes against them .... And Babylon . . . shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah" (19).
God mentioned the leader of that army by name, His "Mashiah," or "Christ," Cyrus, and said: "I will go before thee." And he did. How? Not by the God-man in visible presence, but in those "terrible things" which desolated Babylon and "all the kingdoms of the world" (Jer. xxv. 26), in which catastrophes the cities of the nations fell, empires and thrones and kingdoms were wiped out, and the trembling earth was deluged with blood.
Another prediction of Christ's potential coming is in Mal. iii. 1-5:--
"And the Lord, whom ye seek,
Shall suddenly come to His temple; . . .
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, . . .
And they shall offer unto the Lord offerings in righteousness,
Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Be pleasant unto the Lord,
As in the days of old."
Here, as often, Old Testament terms are used to set forth New Testament facts. The application of the passage to Christ and His work is beyond dispute. Its misapplication to His coming and work in Herod's Temple has blinded many. The facts are that He was not the Lord whom the Jews were seeking; that He did not purify the Levitical priesthood, only a mere fraction; and that the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem were not more acceptable to the Lord, but vastly more offensive because of their rejection of Him.
On the other hand, at Pentecost Christ by the Spirit did come and purify His Temple -- the body of believers -- and their offerings were in righteousness and acceptable unto the Lord as in days of old. Here was a Pentecostal coming of the Lord, and by it the extraordinary increase and establishment of His Kingdom.
But beside the mercy side of that coming, there was another --the punitive, in Mal. iii. 5:-
"And I will come near to you to judgment;
And I will be a swift witness against . . . (them
That) fear not Me, saith the Lord of Hosts."
In the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Mk. xii. 1-9), Christ exposed the Jewish Hierarchy, and said to them: "The Lord of the vineyard will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others." And this He did in that generation.
These various preliminary comings of the Lord Christ cover a period of fifteen hundred years. In each of them the following facts stand forth:--
1. An extraordinary evil or peril.
2. An extraordinary deliverance, and that by special divine intervention.
3. This intervention is called a "coming of the Lord."
4. In neither of them was there a coming of the man Christ Jesus.
5. Said comings are described by terms and symbols which cannot be interpreted in a material, literal sense.
Thus, it was not the man Christ Jesus who came down and passed through Egypt; who came down and trod upon the high places of the earth at the destruction of Samaria; who fought for and delivered Jerusalem by the destruction of Sennacherib; who came with Cyrus and the Medes to redeem the exiles by the destruction of Babylon; who returned to and dwelt in Jerusalem after the Restoration; and who came and destroyed those wicked husbandmen in the desolation of Palestine by the Romans from A.D. 70-135.
It was not the literal mountains and hills that skipped like lambs, when God came from Sinai with His saints, who sat at His feet as pupils to learn His Law. It was not the man Christ Jesus who "bowed the heavens, and came down and rode upon a cherub and did fly" to deliver David (2 Sam. xxii. 10-18). It was not the material heavens which were dissolved, --rolled together as a scroll, --nor did their host fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine, on the day when God had "a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea" (Is. xxxiv. 1-6).
So much upon the fatal results of misunderstanding figurative language.
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