The GOSPEL TRUTH
Why I Am Not A Premillennialist
by Daniel Steele
The American holiness movement revered Daniel Steele (1824-1914) more than any other theologian. Most of his works have been reprinted. Yet no one within the holiness movement opposed premillennialism more than Daniel Steele. It is an irony of history that the holiness movement canonized Daniel Steele, but embraced the very teaching he opposed.
This was the last published work of Daniel Steele and appeared in The Methodist Review, Vol. 93 (May, 1911): 405-415.
There are two theories of Christian eschatology. The first is that the present dispensation of the Holy Spirit will continue till all nations shall be evangelized, "the fullness of the Gentiles be come in," drowning out the unbelief of the Jews till "all Israel shall be saved." After this period of gospel triumph Christ will wind up the probationary history of the human race by the simultaneous resurrection of the good and the bad and the general judgment, assigning them to their eternal destinies. The second theory is that the purpose of Christ's second coming is to set up for the first time his kingdom on the earth, reigning in person on the throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years, attended by a bodyguard of angels and by the risen and glorified saints, the most eminent of whom Christ, the Imperator, will appoint as governors of the various countries of the globe, ruling over mortals who are eating and drinking, sowing and reaping, marrying and bearing children; meanwhile thousand are converted in a day, the Jews first, as suddenly as Saul of Tarsus, and all rushing to the Holy City, and thence into all the world, preaching the true Messiah. This theory is called premillennialism, which, for the sake of brevity, we may call chiliasm, a Greek term preferred by the Reformers. We propose to show that this scheme, having elements at once fascinating the carnal mind and attracting a certain class of truly spiritual people who "love his appearing" is at variance with the Holy Scriptures, proceeding upon crude, arbitrary, and false principles of interpretation, and dodging their absurd, yet legitimate, results; a system lacking coherence, making no provision for some of the most important future events in the history of our race, and painfully imperiling some of the most precious Christian doctrine.
1. The whole system is based on a foundation wholly insufficient - a single text of Scripture; a fact which justifies very grave suspicion, especially when that solitary text, Rev. 20:1-8, is in the book the most figurative, the most misunderstood, in the whole range of literature; so that it is an established maxim that "the Apocalypse either finds its interpreter mad or makes him so." There is no hint of the second advent of Christ till the general judgment in verse 11. The angel who imprisons Satan is not Christ, who is never thus called. The saints who reign with him are not said to reign with him on the earth. Every spiritual victory is through unification with Christ. He is not said to reign with the saints, but, rather, the saints with him, in heaven, by faith. Thus says Wesley (who is falsely claimed as a chiliast), copying Bengel, whom he styled "that great light of the Christian world." Both insist that the martyrs "live and reign, not on the earth, but with Christ." "Live" does not necessarily imply a bodily resurrection, as we will show further on.
2. Chiliasm is grounded on the erroneous assumption that the kingdom of Christ will not be established till the King visibly descends from heaven; that John was mistaken when in the wilderness he preached, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand"; and that when Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world," he was thinking of the throne of David in Jerusalem, on which, after nineteen hundred years, he would sit in visible regal splendor a thousand years, literally the Lord of the whole earth; and that the Jews were thus seemingly justified in rejecting the Messianic kingdom - which the chiliasts tell us was not a real kingdom but only a preparation for it, "as a means to an end," and that the prophecies relating to that kingdom are yet to be fulfilled. They forgot Peter's emphatic conclusion, "THEREFORE let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made this same Jesus whom ye crucified, both LORD and CHRIST." This obviously cuts up chiliasm by the roots. Nay, it places the premillennialist and the unbelieving Jews in the same class, both holding the same error, which they set themselves to overthrow; asserting that Christ's victory over death was not the beginning of his spiritual kingdom, as that grand old formula of worship indicates, the Te Deum Laudamus, called a hymn, a prayer, and a creed: "When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers."(1) This kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit is administered by Christ, enthroned above, through the Paraclete sent down from the Father through his intercession. He now has "the key of the house of David" - the key is the symbol of power. He is now on the throne of David "to order his kingdom in righteousness." The government is now upon his shoulder. "He is the Prince of life" now. We have not space to quote the many texts which express or imply the present Kingship of our adorable Saviour.
3. The general resurrection gives chiliasts much trouble in several particulars. They claim that the millennium will far exceed the present dispensation in the numbers of converts, who are to be multiplied in a wholesale kind of way. But what will be done with them? The Scriptures abundantly prove that the church will be complete at the second coming of its Head. The church is his bride, which he will present to himself as his own at his coming.(2) These texts demonstrate the completeness of the church at Christ's coming. Those who demur quote the highly figurative portions of the Old Testament prophecy and their cognate, the Apocalypse. But that is a vain recourse, since it is an old maxim in theology that "doctrines are not to be built upon prophetic or symbolic scripture." So embarrassed have been some modern chiliasts by this difficulty, arising from the absolute completeness of the church at the second advent precluding conversions thereafter, that they have invented two kinds of Christians: an A Number 1 brand, the Bride of Christ, and an A Number 2 sort, who sustain a less intimate and honorable relation. This is the absurdity to which our chiliastic friends are driven, rather than admit that there is not the shadow of a New Testament proof that one sinner will be converted after the second coming of Christ. To take this horn of the dilemma is to abandon their entire theory.
4. But the simultaneous resurrection of all the dead at Christ's future coming affords no place for the subsequent millennium. To relieve this perplexity, two resurrection are invented - that of the righteous, when the judge descends, and that of the wicked, a thousand years afterward, for which the chiliasts quote Rev. 20:11-15, their only proof. That this refers to the wicked only, they cite the first clause of verse 5, "But the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished." This is not in the Sinaitic, the oldest Greek MS., nor in the Syriac version. In the other MSS. And version this short sentence has eight variations. This interpolation is injected between "this" and the antecedent to which it refers, interrupting the current of the style. To prove that only the wicked are here raised it is said that the sea gives up only the wicked dead, and the book of life is a blank book, a very unusual register in a court of justice in need of positive testimony. That the dead - the good and the bad - arise together is proven by many scriptures. "And many [an Orientalism for "all"] that sleep in the dust shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This is paralleled in John 5:28, "The hour cometh when all who are in their graves shall hear his voice and come forth, they that have done good . . . and they that have done evil," etc. Here is unquestionable simultaneousness. If we hesitate to say that the expression, "I saw the dead, small and great standing before the throne," does not imply the entire human race raised from the death together, then what Augustine says of it is true: "If we deem this obscure, we ought not to seek or find anything clear in the Holy Scriptures." The contemporaneous resurrection of "both the just and unjust" is asserted by Paul in Acts 24:15, and in the Areopagus he declared that "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world," ð, the inhabited earth. In order to find a place for the millennium after the second coming of Christ and the Judgment Day it is said that that event will occupy a thousand years, one day with the Lord, who will judge, or rule, the whole day and at its close will raise and judge the wicked. This implies two different meanings to this verb, as "governing" is a social term, while "judging" is individual; the two things cannot be included in one idea - the control of masses of men at the present time and a judicial inquiry into the past acts of an individual soul. If you take the former, you have no Judgment Day; if the latter, you have no blissful millennium. The only text which is quoted in proof of the resurrection of the saints before the thousand years is this figurative scripture in which "lived" is regarded as a literal resurrection, "I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. This is the first resurrection." We cannot interpret this resurrection as other than metaphorical, for the following reasons: (1) Only souls were seen. "Lived" does not necessarily indicate physical life; it sometimes means blissful life, well-being, as when Christ says, "Because I live, ye shall live also." These souls were first under the altar crying, in distress, for vengeance, wholly unlike Jesus on the cross and Stephen when stoned praying, "Father, forgive them." The figurative view relieves this scene. They are praying for the downfall of persecuting paganism and the triumph of the cause for which they were slain during ten merciless imperial persecutions, from Nero to Diocletian. Then when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, A. D. 325, the prayer of these martyred souls was answered and they were happy, indeed, they lived; they arose from underneath the altar and sat upon the throne. This is the first resurrection of these souls not yet enswathed in their glorified bodies. This exegesis alleviated the cry for vengeance which is not against persons, but against a cruel system of idolatry then banished forever. Moreover, it shows the difficulty of the chiliasts to account for the resurrection of the many myriads of millions who became saints during the millennium, since by their theory only the wicked would be raised at its close. When will these saints be raised? The chiliast has no answer. Yet a still greater perplexity is the question, How can the millennial saints escape the second death, seeing that they have no part in the first resurrection? If it is literal, they must be excluded from salvation. This is the only alternative. The phrase "second resurrection" is not found in God's Word, for the good reason that there is but one literal resurrection. Moreover, the chiliasts have no end to generation on the earth. Some say they will continue an eternal succession.
Difficulties thicken as we apply literalism to the study of the words "and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." If this means that their happy souls with Christ will rejoice over the long period of prosperity enjoyed by the church on the earth before a period of spiritual decline, there is no difficulty. But to say that risen and glorified saints are to live and reign with Christ for a period of only a thousand years is totally unlike the language of Scripture in every other place, which assures us that we are to be forever with the Lord. This difficulty is relieved by that figure of speech which applies resurrection to a revived cause, as did Ezekiel in his vision, and Paul to the final conversion of the Jews as "life from the dead."
5. We are told by the chiliasts that the saving of souls is to go on upon the earth after the Redeemer's second appearing. If this be true, all the means of grace will continue. The scaffolding of a building is kept up till the edifice is completed; but if it is removed, we rightly infer that the work is finished. In awakening sinners what is the most effectual motive? The coming of Christ, "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, ... who shall punish with everlasting destruction ... them that obey not the gospel." "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night." "The Son of man cometh when ye think not." "As it was in the days of Noah, ... even thus shall it be when the Son of man shall be revealed." The futurity of the coming of Christ is everywhere urged as a motive to repent. This motive can be of no avail after this solemn and decisive event is past. In the training of disciples and the development of Christian character the same motive is urged: "Occupy till I come." "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord." "The Lord ... shall give the crown ... to all them that love his appearing." Such incentives to holiness abound. Faith rests upon the first coming of our Saviour and hope looks forward to the second, the crisis and consummation of the state of grace. He says, "My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." No such motives to purity will exist after Christ's advent. Thus one half of the Bible will be as useless to sinners as a last year's almanac, and the other half be as worthless to saints. It is "a light shining in darkness until the day dawn," and not beyond.
6. The ordinance of baptism, which, though not saving, is a channel of grace to the penitent believer, does not extend beyond the end of the world, or age. "Go ye and disciple all nations, baptizing them, teaching them, ... and, lo, I am with you always even tot he end of the world." This will leave no outward public sign of renouncing the devil and all his works and of allegiance to King Jesus. Baptism breaks the caste of the Hindu and levels the proud Brahmin down to the sweeper. The Scriptures give no hint of a substitute for this initiatory, sealing ordinance in the millennium after Christ shall come. Nor is there any substitute for "teaching" after that decisive event. This includes preaching as well as Bible classes and Sunday schools. The Lord's Supper, a very precious channel of grace, will share the fate of baptism, and disappear at the descent of its Founder, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." The word "till" does not necessarily exclude this ordinance beyond the coming, but it certainly indicates that Jesus had not idea of a church on the earth after his advent. He was not a chiliast. He did not derange the symmetry of his gospel and subvert the whole economy of evangelical motives and nullify his own ordinances a thousand years before they ceased to be effective in building up and beautifying human character as the premillennialists do by dislocating and eviscerating every text relating to the coming of our Lord. Afterward these ordinances will be out of date as well as the grace with which they are identified. Hence the millennium cannot be a Christian era, the institutes of the gospel having become obsolete. Says Mr. Brooks, whom I have heard, "The Holy Scriptures would, for the most part, be rendered inapplicable to the then existing circumstances of men in the flesh, and there would be need of some further revelation from God." Just so. This distinguished chiliast admits that the Bible would be a back number, or, to use his own words, "a dead letter, as much unsuited to the condition of mankind as they would be were they address to the angels of God"! Yet they will be valuable "as a memorial, like the pot of manna laid up in the ark." Hence our Bibles will still have some slight value. It is better to keep them than to sell them to the ragman for a penny a pound. Yet Dr. McNeile warns us that some parts of the New Testament may "become obsolete, not to say false," citing the strait gate and narrow way, "Be no conformed to this world," "Come out from among them and be ye separate," "The devil goeth about," etc., as erroneous in the millennium. He kindly informs us respecting the issue of this new New Testament, "This communication we expect at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is to be hoped that some who are inclined to this millennial scheme may, in view of its legitimate inferences, discover that it is utterly void of any scriptural basis. This will be seen still more clearly in our treatment of the next difficulty.
7. The cessation of Christ's intercessions at his second coming will terminate all the offices of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of men. As the Paraclete was sent down to do the work of Christ when he returned to his Father, he will withdraw when Christ returns to the earth in his glorified humanity. How can sinners repent of their sins, be born again, have assurance of sonship, and be sanctified, after the divine Reprover of sin, the Author of the new birth, the Witness of adoption, and the Sanctifier, has withdrawn from the earth? Chiliasts admit this withdrawal. Dr. A. J. Gordon, of blessed memory, as a chapter entitled, "The Ascent of the Holy Spirit," of which the Scriptures say nothing, but they teach that his dispensation is the last on the earth. The connection between Christ's continued work of the Spirit and for saving purposes, the continual intercession of Christ is shown in John 7:38-39; 14:16, 26, 36, and 16:7, 14; Acts 2:33; Titus 3:5-6. As the church will be complete when Christ comes, as we have shown, so the means of grace and the agencies of salvation will then terminate.
8. We cannot adopt chiliasm because of the confusion and inconsistency respecting the kingdom of Christ manifest in the sayings of its advocates. Some of them teach it is not a growth, but a sudden miraculous creation; that the Christian Church has nothing to do with it; that Jesus will bring it from a far country; that, unlike the church, it will not be "a mixture of the good and the bad." But the parables of Christ teach that the kingdom is a growth like the mustard plant, as assimilating principle like leaven, a moral mixture, good and bad fish in the net, drawn to the shore, and tares growing with the wheat till the harvest at the end of the world, which is synonymous with the second advent. The pessimistic doctrine is also taught that the church will wax worse and worse till Christ comes, and the chiliasts prove it, as they think, by the assertion that leaven is a corruption principle, forbidden by the ceremonial law. But Christ distinctly declares that the kingdom of God is like leaven, like a field sown with both wheat and tares, like a dragnet with good and bad fish, and that this mixture ends when the world ends at the coming of Christ to separate the wicked from the just and to wind up the history of mankind on the earth. This same doctrine is implied in the great commission and in all the great creeds of the church: the Apostolic, so called; Athanasian, Nicene, and the creeds which grew out of the Reformation, a doctrine utterly inconsistent with this error which has plagued every era of the church. But it has always been rejected by the sober exegetes and theologians in the various Christian councils.
9. In order to wedge in the millennium between the coming of Christ and the end of probation, the Day of Judgment as well as the general resurrection must be broken into fragments and be strung along a thousand years. The Plymouth Brethren - of whom Dr. Carroll reports four sorts - deny that the persons of the saints will ever be judged, Christ having been judged and punished for them on the cross; but their works will be judged at the coming of Christ, to determine their rewards, in the form of offices which Christ will then distribute according to merit. Saint Paul may be king of England and emperor of India, and, to humble the Pope, Saint Peter may be king of Italy, the sham vanishing in confusion when faced by the genuine. The Greek word for "judgment" has two meanings: its proper signification of judgment and the condemnatory side of judgment, as in John 5:24 and 3:19, where the Revision is not so discriminating as the King James Version. But neither the denial of the judgment of a part of mankind nor the postponement of another part a thousand years can be harmonized with the Scriptures. See Matt 10:32-33, supplemented by Mark 8:38; thus proving that Christ's confessing of his confessors, denying of his deniers, will be "when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels." In Rev 21:7-8, the overcomer and the coward are simultaneously judged. In Matt 16:24-27 the loser of his life for Christ's sake and the savior of it are thus judged when the Son of man shall come, and then he shall reward every man according to his works. In Matt 7:21-23 we have the admission and the exclusion both at once, "in that day." In 25:10 the virgins are judged in the same night, the foolish and the wise; verses 31-46, the most awful and solemn words in the whole range of literature, are too plain to be disfigured by any explanation. In 13:30, 38-43, the tares and the wheat; in Acts 17:31, an appointed day to judge the world; in Rom 2:5-16, "the day of wrath" to some, and of "glory" to others; 2 Cor 5:9-11, "all appear" and receive according to their deeds, "whether ... good or bad"; see also 1 Cor 4:5 and 3:12-15; Col 1:28; Heb 13:17; 1 Thess 2:19-20. In Rom 14:10, 12 all stand before the judgment seat; see also 2 Pet 3:7, 10, 12.
10. Finally, we raise the question, What would be the effect of preaching to sinners that the coming of Christ as a visible person, clothed with overwhelming majesty, not to judge and condemn the impenitent, but to set up a glorious earthly kingdom and to invite all men into it after having sentenced Satan to State prison for a term a thousand years long? Would it not furnish a motive to defer repentance because it would be easier when the world should be held in awe by the power and glory of the divine King who has suddenly set up his throne in Jerusalem, claiming universal dominion, and the devil's business of tempting men to sin is suspended, so that two of the three great enemies to the Christian life are out of the way, leaving only the flesh to be vanquished? We think it would have this effect. Probation would not be ended, but extended under circumstances apparently more favorable to commencing the spiritual life. No doctrine, Joseph Cook used to say, which weakens the motives to immediate repentance can be inspired by the Spirit of truth. This doctrine would be especially obstructive of the conversion of the Jews, some of whom from their contact with American Christians are beginning to lay aside their hostility to the Nazarene and to claim him as a noble son of Abraham. Our city missionaries find one, now and then, who from a study of the New Testament is convinced that Jesus is the true Messiah, but from "fear of the Jews," from dread of expulsion from the synagogue and of having his name erased by his father from his family register, shrinks from the public confession of Christ. Would not premillennialism be obstructive of this confession? Would he not think it best to wait till Christ shall be enthroned in Jerusalem and the Jews are hastening as fast as the crowded steamers will carry them to do him homage and hail him as their Messiah? We think he would take his chances of living till that event, when he can avoid persecution by going with the crowd into the kingdom. Such a conversion to Christi would not be a change of heart, but, rather, a change of politics. No man can exercise saving faith in a visible, glorified, triumphant, and world-ruling Messiah while retaining the spirit of hostility to the crucified Saviour. It would be the same as to say to him, "We believe in you because you have now come to our terms - making your advent as an all-conquering Deliverer, as you should have come at first." Says Mr. Brooks, "There will be the open vision of Christ; the saints will continually have access to him." Can faith and sight coexist? Are they not everywhere in the Scriptures contrasted?
Having spoken in negative terms throughout this article, let me use positive terms. I believe the millennium is the present state of grace developed more widely and fully than in the early stages of the gospel, that its beginning and end will follow the law of all other great periods of church history, being uncertain and gradual, so excluding slothfulness and security and keeping the church full of missionary activity, but yet in the fitting attitude of expectancy, while nation after nation, like Ethiopia, "shall stretch out their hands unto God."
1. See Acts 2:29-36
2. See I Cor. 15:23; Eph. 5:25; I Thess. 1:10; 3:13.
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