Torrey Gazette is the combined work of everyday Christians blogging on books, family, art, and theology. So pull up a seat and join us. Family Table rules apply. Shouting is totally acceptable.

Postmillennialist: Augustus H. Strong (Part 1)


What?!?! A Baptist postmillennialist? You bet! Depending on what historians you listen to you'll be convinced that Baptist and the Southern Baptist Convention use to be almost exclusively postmillennial (back when there was natural optimism in the world and America). It is fascinating how history and current world affairs seem to control and dictate the eschatology of choice. This is off the topic and not meant to slam any specific eschatological position but the church needs to take its view from Scripture and not from the news paper.

Augustus H. Strong was born August 3rd 1836. He was an American Baptist who served as both a minister and theologian. He wrote an extensive Systematic Theology (which is the source for all quotes found below) and was a Calvinist. He has many other published works and in the future we will enjoy looking at postmillennial thought in his lectures and his essential Christian doctrine (!!). Also in the future we'll hopefully get a chance to look at some of his students who also held to postmillennialism.

Dating of Revelation

One of the topics crucial to preterism is the dating of the book of Revelation. Usually scholars are split between a 95 and 65 A.D. date. The more popular view as of late has been the "late date" of 95 A.D. and this opinion is often seen as the ultimate weakness of the preterist option. Strong is one of the many older theologians who believed in an early date of Revelation. This allowed him to view the book with more of a "dual prophecy" perspective (more on this in a future post). Thus, while being critical of the "continuous" view, what would today be called the historicist, Strong explicitly cites his opinion on the dating of the book. Now, as will become clear, Strong was by no means a thorough preterist. However, he still approved of the early date,

Elliott’s whole scheme, however, is vitiated by the fact that he wrongly assumes the book of Revelation to have been written under Domitian (94 or 96), instead of under Nero (67 or 68). His terminus a quo is therefore incorrect, and his interpretation of chapters 5-9 is rendered very precarious.

The dating of the book actually becomes very important in the historicist view since every day (or so) accounts for a year (or so). Strong believed a proper start date would throw the historical interpretation into a loop and defeat the perspective. Since Strong already accepted the early date, I like to think that he could have been converted to a more consistent preterist position. He already provided hints since he accepted that is was possible for Matthew 24:14 to be speaking about Jerusalem,

Paul’s phrase here (referring to Col 1:23) and the apparent reference in Matthew 24:14 to A. D. 70 as the time of the end, should restrain theorizers from insisting that the Second Coming of Christ cannot occur until this text has been fulfilled with literal completeness.

In the end though, Strong typically saw two times of fulfillment in many of the judgment texts that preterist apply to Jerusalem and it is likely he did so with many of the passages in Revelation. This makes him a fascinating individual to read. He is an interesting mix of early date, mostly futurist and yet still historical postmillennialism and all within the Baptist heritage!

General Description

It is hard to find a perfect description and label for Strong's postmillennialism. Historic postmillennialism as found in the writing of Jonathan Edwards seems to be the best fit. He utterly rejected strict premillennialism while entertaining the language in a lecture that further taught the apparent falsehood of the view. But Strong also found the amillennial position lacking. Part of this is because it was the liberal position that there would be no reign of Christ. This type of amillennialism is a far cry different from today's conservative and Biblical amillennialism. Still Strong was convinced with respect to future kingdom passages (much like myself) and would likely reject modern amillennialism. Finally, his exposition of Revelation 20, which is quoted below, will distinguish him for most modern postmillennialist. While this postmillennialism is rejected by modern postmillennials, I will deem it a success if I can convince anyone to either of the positions! :-)

Below are lengthy portions of quotes from Strong addressing his millennial opinions with some comments in between. Listed Biblical references are quoted in their entirety in his Systematic Theology and are condensed here for practical purposes.

3. The precursors of Christ’s coming.

(a) Through the preaching of the gospel in all the world, the kingdom of Christ is steadily to enlarge its boundaries, until Jews and Gentiles alike become possessed of its blessings and a millennial period is introduced in which Christianity generally prevails throughout the earth. (Dan 2:44-45; Matt 13:31-32; 24:14; Rom 11:25-26; Rev 20:4-6; Col 1:23) 

(b) There will be a corresponding development of evil, either extensive or intensive, whose true character shall be manifest not only in deceiving many professed followers of Christ and in persecuting true believers, but in constituting a personal Antichrist as its representative and object of worship. This rapid growth shall continue until the millennium, during which evil, in the person of its chief, shall be temporarily restrained. (Matt 13:30, 38; 24:5, 11, 12, 24; Luke 21:12; 2 Thess 2:3-4, 7-8) 

(c) At the close of this millennial period, evil will again be permitted to exert its utmost power in a final conflict with righteousness. This spiritual struggle, moreover, will be accompanied and symbolized by political convulsions and by fearful indications of desolation in the natural world. (Matt 24:29-30; Luke 21:8-28)

Some would note that this is inconsistent with a typical modern postmillennial position. In fact this type of language is often attributed to modern amillennialist! Apparently Strong himself was aware but unfazed by these critics,

It has been objected that a simultaneous growth both of evil and of good is inconceivable and that the progress of the divine kingdom implies a diminution in the power of the adversary. Only a slight reflection however convinces us that, as the population of the world is always increasing, evil men may increase in numbers, even though there is increase in the numbers of the good. But we must also consider that evil grows in intensity just in proportion to the light which good throws upon it. “Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The devil always builds a chapel there.” Every revival of religion stirs up the forces of wickedness to opposition. As Christ’s First Advent occasioned an unusual outburst of demoniac malignity, so Christ’s Second Advent will be resisted by a final desperate effort of the evil one to overcome the forces of good. The great awakening in New England under Jonathan Edwards caused on the one hand a most remarkable increase in the number of Baptist believers but also, on the other hand, the rise of modern Unitarianism. The optimistic Presbyterian pastor at Auburn argued with the pessimistic chaplain of the State’s Prison that the world was certainly growing better because his congregation was increasing, whereupon the chaplain replied that his own congregation was increasing also.

While I do not disagree with Strong's basis, I think a more consistent preterist approach to some of his passages would have removed some of this thinking. I can accept though that his natural inclination to an entirely future "golden age" kept him seeing most Biblical texts as in the future. He dealt with these as faithfully as he could while still seeing the ultimate truth of gospel victory found in Scripture. Here are more in depth quotes from Strong concerning Revelation itself,

4. Relation of Christ’s Second Coming to the millennium.The Scripture foretells a period, called in the language of prophecy “a thousand years,” when Satan shall be restrained and. the saints shall reign with Christ on the earth. A comparison of the passages bearing on this subject leads us to the conclusion that this millennial blessedness and dominion is prior to the Second Advent. One passage only seems at first sight to teach the contrary, viz.: Revelation 20:4-10. But this supports the theory of a premillennial advent only when the passage is interpreted with the barest literalness. A better view of its meaning will be gained by considering: 

(a) That it constitutes a part, and confessedly an obscure part, of one of the most figurative books of Scripture and therefore, ought to be interpreted by the plainer statements of the other Scriptures. 

(b) That the other Scriptures contain nothing with regard to a resurrection of the righteous, which is widely separated in time from that of the wicked but rather declare distinctly that the Second Coming of Christ is immediately connected both with the resurrection of the just and the unjust and with the general judgment. (Matt 16:27; 25:31-33; John 5:28-29; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Thess 1:6-10; 2 Pet 3:7, 10; Rev 20:11-15)

Here is abundant evidence that there is no interval of a thousand years between the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection, general judgment, and end of all things. All these events come together. The only answer of the premillennialists to this objection to their theory is that the Day of Judgment and that the millennium may be contemporaneous.

Point C is skipped since it solely refers to the resurrection. This point continues to harp against premillennialism but is beyond the scope of discussion on the millennium,

(d) That the literal interpretation is generally and naturally connected with the expectation of a gradual and necessary decline of Christ’s kingdom upon earth, until Christ comes to bind Satan and to introduce the millennium. This view not only contradicts such passages as Daniel 2:34-35 and Matthew 13:31-32 but it begets a passive and hopeless endurance of evil. The Scriptures enjoin a constant and aggressive warfare against it, upon the very ground that God’s power shall assure to the church a gradual but constant progress in the face of it, even to the time of the end.

(e) We may therefore best interpret Revelation 20:4-10 as teaching in highly figurative language, not a preliminary resurrection of the body in the case of departed saints but a period in the later days of the church militant when, under special influence of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of the martyrs shall appear again, true religion be greatly quickened and revived and the members of Christ’s churches become so conscious of their strength in Christ that they shall, to an extent unknown before, triumph over the powers of evil both within and without. So the spirit of Elijah appeared again in John the Baptist ( Malachi 4:5; cf. Matthew 11:13-14). The fact that only the spirit of sacrifice and faith is to be revived is figuratively indicated in the phrase: “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years should be finished” = the spirit of persecution and unbelief shall be, as it were, laid to sleep. Since resurrection, like the coming of Christ and the judgment, is twofold, first, spiritual (the raising of the soul to spiritual life), and secondly, physical (the raising of the body from the grave), the words in Revelation 20:5 — “this is the first resurrection” seem intended distinctly to preclude the literal interpretation we are combating. In short, we hold that Revelations 20:4-10 does not describe the events commonly called the Second Advent and resurrection but rather, describes great spiritual changes in the later history of the church, which are typical of, and preliminary to, the Second Advent and resurrection and therefore, after the prophetic method, are foretold in language literally applicable only to those final events themselves (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14; Luke 15:32)

It should be clear that Strong's version of postmillennialism is very unique. In fact, it was his great divergence from the standard modern postmillennialism that forced me to pay more attention to apparent victory passages and take the arguments of modern postmillennialist more seriously.

A Survey of The Days of Vengeance: Preface and Introduction (Part 2)

The Psalms Reimagined