THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
III. THE WORLD'S CONVERSION AFTER CHRIST'S SECOND ADVENT IMPOSSIBLE.
By the predicted conversion of the world is meant the reconstruction of human society upon the Scriptural basis: "One is your master, The Christ; and all ye are brethren." The result is to be peace and prosperity, universal and final. It is to be an era in which Christ will be de facto, as long de jure, the Sovereign of the world, while His redemptive agencies will achieve their grandest triumphs in the salvation of men from sin to holiness.
Such state of affairs is the Millennium of Scripture, a condition of mortality, of probation, and of the utmost activity of the powers of Christ's Kingdom. Christ's second advent is his return in body from heaven. This return from heaven in a real body, distinguishes said coming from many of the former comings.
Our argument is that the conditions essential to the Scriptural millennium cease and terminate at Christ's second advent, and that hence there can be no such millennium thereafter. For brevity I use the word millennium as the synonym of the phrase, "the world's conversion."
Here is the first argument:--
1. The millennium is a condition or state of mortality.
2. But mortality ends at Christ's second advent.
3. Therefore there can be no millennium after said advent.
All admit the first proposition, viz.: the millennium is a state of mortality. The second, that mortality ends at Christ's second advent is proven by two facts.
1. All that are Christ's put on immortality at Christ's second advent.
2. At that time -- "then" -- Death is abolished, after which there can be no mortality.
Christ declared it to be His Father's will "that of all that which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." Paul repeats this and locates it definitely: "They that are Christ's at His coming" (1 Cor. xv. 23). Again (1 Thess. iv. 16-18), "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven ... and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord."
Again, Christ and Paul teach that the righteous will be changed to immortality instantly and simultaneously. At His voice shall come forth "they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life" (John v. 29). "We shall not all sleep," says Paul (1 Cor. xv. 51, 52), "but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." The fact then that all that the Father hath given to Christ will put on immortality instantly and simultaneously, is here declared as plainly as words can declare anything.
Already have we quoted the declaration that these changes will be when the Lord himself descends from heaven. Death will be abolished when the saints put on immortality, i. e., at Christ's second advent. Isaiah said that God will swallow up death in victory. Paul (1 Cor. xv. 53, 54) quotes this saying, and tells us when Christ's saints put on immortality. Of the righteous he says: "This mortal must put on immortality. But when ... this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory,'" i. e. shall be completely abolished.
Now Paul had said that there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Christ had said: "All that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth;" incontestibly at the same moment and command. And here Paul declares that mortality shall be absolutely abolished when the righteous put on immortality at the second advent of Christ.
His terms "when" and "then" according to their meaning and use are shut up to this conclu sion. The first and fullest meaning of the word rendered "when," is whenever (See Strong's or Young's Conc.), and this is its chief New Testament usage. The original for "then" has but one meaning, viz.: at that time. Paul used it eighteen times, and this is its only meaning with his. In its one hundred and sixty occurrences in the New Testament, it has but this one meaning.
In the passage considered, Paul's meaning is unquestionably this: that whenever the righteous put on immortality, then--at that time--death will be abolished by the resurrection of the wicked, for death cannot be abolished till the entire race is raised or changed.
But since it is proved, and all admit, that all the righteous will put on immortality at Christ's second advent, and since the Millennium is confessedly a condition of mortality, and since that condition ceases at Christ's second advent, there can be no millennium after that advent.
Confirmed is this view by the Church Father, Justin Martyr, an eminent Premillennialist, though not of the modern sort, in the following words: --
"Christ...became incarnate... in order that... the serpent that sinned... may be destroyed, and that death may forever quit at the second coming of Christ himself . . . and be no more, when some are sent to be punished unceasingly . . . but others shall exist in freedom from suffering in immortality." (Ante-Nicene Lib., vol. 2, p. 144. Edinburgh Ed. 1870.)
It having been shown that Christ's second advent ends mortality, it will next be set forth that it also ends probation by the universal eternal judgment.
Paul's quotation above is from Is. xlv. 23-25: --
"By myself have I sworn,
The word is gone forth from my mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That unto me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall swear.
Only in the Lord, shall one say unto me,
Is righteousness and strength;
Even to Him shall men come,
And all they that were incensed against Him shall be ashamed.
In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified,
And shall glory."
Notice the universality, "men;" "all they that were incensed against him;" "all the seed of Israel;'' all the righteous and all the wicked. Where? Paul answers--"At the judgment of Christ." When? "After death." And then, as if Paul foresaw the modern perversion of this "death," he applies it to all Christians as a part of the "men;" "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God." Each one of us shall--not only be there but--give an account of himself to God.
One judgment, universal in its subjects and eternal in its allotments, was the teaching of Christ and his apostles. This is called "the judgment," "the day of judgment," and is explained by Paul as that day, in which God will judge the inhabited earth . . . in the man whom he hath ordained" (Acts xvii. 31).
That the universality of this judgment included saints and sinners, is declared by Paul and proved from the Old Testament in these words, addressed to the Christians at Rome: "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: --
'As I live, saith the Lord, to me shall every knee bow,
And every tongue shall confess to God.'
So then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God" (Rom. xiv. 10-12).
The universality and simultaneousness of the judgment at His second advent did Christ unquestionably declare in the parable of the wheat and the tares. Therein both wheat and tares are gathered each and all to their final destiny at one and the same time. Likewise in the parable of the net, the good were gathered and the evil cast away at one and the same time, and both at the end of the same age.
Similarly in the parable of the pounds, when the nobleman returned, the first called to give account of themselves were the servants, then the citizens, and, in direct terms apart from parable, Christ said (Matt. xvi. 27): "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to his deeds." And in His description of this coming and judgment (Matt. xxv. 31-46) He announces the final allotments of both the righteous and the wicked, eternal life to the one, and eternal punishment to the other.
Paul's words respecting this judgment at the second advent of Christ put beyond all cavil the simultaneousness of the judgment of all men at Christ's advent. "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power."
Then, as if he foresaw some notions now prevalent, Paul notably proceeds: "rendering vengeance to them that knew not God, and to them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus; who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints" (2 Thess. i. 6-10).
As to this passage notice:--
1. That it speaks of Christ's second advent, i.e., of His revelation from heaven with His mighty angels to be glorified in His saints.
2. That the recompense of the righteous and of the wicked are at the same time, i.e., when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, i.e., at His second advent.
3. That this assignment of both the righteous and the wicked to their final destiny implies their judgment, which Christ says will be at His coming in His Father's glory, or His second advent.
4. That this universal and eternal judgment ends probation. But the Scriptural millennium is a condition of probation. Therefore as probation ends at the Judgment, which will be at the second advent and will include all men everywhere, there can be no millennium after Christ's second advent.
5. That at Christ's second advent the righteous and wicked are separated absolutely and forever. But during the millennium of the Scriptures the righteous and the wicked are together. Hence the millennium of the Scriptures cannot be after Christ's second advent.
That the righteous and the wicked are absolutely and forever parted at Christ's second advent, is implied and proven by the fact already considered, viz.: the judgment of all men everywhere at His second coming. The parable of the wheat and the tares puts this matter beyond dispute. Both are to grow together until the harvest, and the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. As the tares are gathered together and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this age.
The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. Then --at that time-- shall the righteous shine in the kingdom of their Father. And as if Christ foresaw the perversity of error, to stop it, He repeats the same truth in the parable of the net, in which were gathered of every kind, and being filled it was drawn to the shore, and the good gathered into vessels, and the bad cast away. "So it shall be," says Christ, "at the end of the age. The angels shall come forth and shall sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire."
All parties admit what the texts abundantly prove, that the age spoken of in these parables is the Gospel age or dispensation. Now it is not a matter of opinion or interpretation, but of unequivocal declaration:--
1. That during this age, until the harvest tares are "among" the wheat, i.e., the wicked are among the just; but
2. That in the harvest, which is the gathering of the whole crop, the tares, the wicked, are severed from among the just, and each assigned their final destiny.
3. That this absolute severance of the wicked from among the just is at the Judgment, when Christ shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels at the end of this age or dispensation. Now, after this final assignment of eternal life to the just and eternal punishment to the wicked at Christ's second advent,-- after this gathering of the entire race to their eternal state, who will be converted? Not the just in heaven, not the wicked in hell. What then is the material for conversion after Christ's second advent, and whence comes it?
4. The conversion of the world or the Scriptural millennium is Christ's triumph, as King of Kings. But He delivers up His Kingdom at His second coming. Therefore there can be no millennium after that advent.
The first of these just named postulates is admitted, and needs no argument. The millennium is that condition of the world in which "All kings shall fall down before Him and all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. lxxii. 11).
The second of them is declared by Paul who, with extraordinary precision, has shown the beginning and the close of Christ's reign. For its beginning: "He raised Him from the dead and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all ruler, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, ....and He put all things in subjection under His feet" (Eph. i. 20-22).
The close of this reign is declared in the decree: "Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Ps. cx. 1).
Explicitly does Paul declare that all the race shall be made alive by Christ--every man in his own company, "they that are His at His coming," --and then is the end, when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God the Father, when He shall have put down all rule and authority and power, for He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet, even the last which is death. Here Paul says that Christ will deliver up His Kingdom when He has abolished death. The abolition of death is His last redemptive act. But, as shown before by Paul's direct testimony, Christ will abol ish death at His second advent. Therefore there can be no millennium or conversion of the world after that advent.
That this view is correct is proven by the fact that the redemptive powers and agencies of Christ's kingdom cease as such at Christ's second advent.
The time of Christ's redemptive work is called by Isaiah "a day of salvation" (xlix. 1-8). Thus saith the Lord--to Christ:--
"I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles,
That thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.....
In an acceptable time I have answered thee,
And in a day of salvation have I helped thee,
And I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people."
In the next eighteen verses Isaiah describes the triumph of Christ's reign in the day of salvation mentioned in verses 6-8. In chapter ii. 2-4 the same prophet says that that triumph will be an era of peace on earth, so that the nations will learn war no more. This is the conversion of the world, or millennium of the Scriptures. And the prophet says this shall come to pass in the last days (chap. ii. 2).
Now Peter and Paul expressly declare that the last days had begun in their time. "God... hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His son" (Heb. i. 1). This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel:--
'' And it shall be in the last days, saith God,
I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts ii. 16, 17).
And Paul (2 Cor. vi. 2) quotes Isaiah's words as fulfilled at the moment of his writing: "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
All parties agree that Paul speaks of the Gospel dispensation or age called "the last days." And as Isaiah says that the era of universal and final peace shall come "in the last days," it follows as a matter of direct revelation, that the conversion of the world will be in the present age or dispensation, and not in another after the advent. Again, the last days will close with the last day, and as the last day is the day of resurrection and the eternal judgment at Christ's second advent, and as it is the last of the periods to end, there can be no day of salvation after it.
Thus the redemptive powers and agencies of Christ's kingdom cease as such at His second ad vent. Christ's mediatorial work must cease when He takes the throne of eternal judgment at His coming. And Paul says that He shall appear the second time without sin. The word "sin" in this connection cannot mean guilt, for Christ never knew guilt. "The same Hebrew word," says Dr. Steele, "is used in the Old Testament one hundred and sixty times for sin, and one hundred and twelve times for sin-offering. Paul evidently uses the equivalent Greek word in the sense of sin-offering, or in his own words, "sacrifice for sin." Thus we understand Paul to mean that Christ's atonement ceases to atone for sin at His second appearing, our conclusion harmonizes with the other teachings of Paul and Christ.
As before seen Paul teaches that the righteous and the wicked will receive their eternal awards when Christ shall be revealed from heaven to be glorified in His saints. And Christ himself limits the saving power of His kingdom by His coming: "Occupy till I come." "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come" (1 Cor. x. 26). "The bride groom came; and they that were ready went in ... and the door was shut" (Matt. xxv. 10). "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, ... and lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the aion,"--age. (Matt. xxviii. 19-20).
How was Christ to be with His evangelizing church? Plainly by the Holy Spirit. How long? Unto the end of the age. When does that age end? At Christ's second advent. A millennium without Christ's mediation and atonement; without the Holy Spirit as the executive of the Godhead and the regenerator and sanctifier, and a church divinely commissioned and empowered; may exist in the imagination of erring men. But never the millennium of the Scripture.
Finally. At Christ's second coming the earth will be so dissolved by fire as to disappear forever. Therefore a millennium of converted nations upon it after that advent is impossible. Paul speaks of "the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven ... in flaming fire ... when He shall come to be glorified in His saints" (1 Thess. i. 8-10). In exposing the scoffers who deny His coming, Peter declares that: "The heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, be ing reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter iii. 7). "The day of the Lord" --of His advent--" will come ... in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter iii. 10).
In describing that judgment, John says: "I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them" (Rev. xx. 11). Following this is the most minute description of the resurrection and judgment to be found in the Bible. In the next chapter, John repeats as follows: "The first heaven and the first earth are passed away" (xxi. 1).
By this repetition John emphasizes the fact that our heaven and earth are to depart from their place, and when he adds "there was found no place for them," this statement must be accepted, and not ignored as is strangely done by every theory of renovation and reconstruction of the old heavens and earth. Decisive are Peter's words, when he says that at the day of judgment--the day of the Lord's coming, --not only that the earth and its work shall be burned, dissolved, but its constituent elements, as the word means, "shall melt with fervent heat," and this he repeats.
And when John adds: "They fled away and no place was found for them," he asserts not only what will be, but what has been with other worlds which have disappeared from their place in the heavens. There will be a new heaven and earth, but as John says, these will be AFTER, NOT DURING, the millennium.
Our argument here is this:--
1. Paul, Peter, and John in these texts speak of Christ's second advent--not a third, but the second.
2. At that advent our earth is to disappear forever.
3. Therefore a millennium of converting and converted men upon it after that advent is an impossibility.
The various conflicting and rejected devices to relieve premillennialism from the destructive force of these passages, show plainly its desperate condition. Some would limit the conflagration to old Rome; others to Papal Rome; others to Europe.
But the most popular device is the assumption that the day of the Lord may be, and therefore will be, a thousand years, and that it may be, and therefore will be that Christ will come at the beginning of the thousand years and will burn the world at its close with the millennium between.
This makes Peter and Paul false witnesses, for they unquestionably place the conflagration at Christ's coming, and Paul distinctly says that Christ's revelation in flaming fire and the eternal destruction of the wicked will be "when He comes to be glorified in His saints." Not a thousand years after.
Again this device is demolished by Christ's parable of the nobleman, who judged the servants and citizens on his return and at the same time,--also His parable of the wheat and tares, and the net. In each of these, final allotments are made at one and the same time,--at the end of the age, or at the second advent, not a thousand years after.
That which Paul implies and Peter declares, John describes,--Christ on the throne of eternal judgment, before whose face the heaven and the earth flee away, so that no place was found for them; the resurrection of the dead, small and great, and their judgment, and then the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness only.
Some have an easy way of assuming that what they wish will be, because for aught they know it may be. Thus an Essayist at the Prophetic Conference solved the problem of finding population for the millennial earth after the burning of our earth, by boldly asserting that a remnant of men in the flesh will escape the consuming fire described by Peter. But in view of the terms used by Peter, it is doubtful if he would take the chances.
Thus have we glanced at the testimony of Christ and His Apostles respecting these several points, viz.: Christ's second advent will end mortality, probation, the mixture of good and evil, His mediatorial kingdom, His commission to the Church, the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit, and the earth itself. If either of these postulates is true, the hope of the conversion of the world, or any part of it, after that advent, is A DREAM.
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