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Postmillennialist: Augustus H. Strong (Part 2)

Postmillennialist: Augustus H. Strong (Part 2)

A few months ago I spoke about the postmillennial convictions of one of the Baptist traditions greatest Calvinists. You can re-visit Part 1 to refresh yourself to some of the peculiarities of Strong's eschatology. One of the key things I will reemphasize is the unique 1900s version of postmillennialism that Strong held to. He believed in a completely future 1000 year reign. While there are many substantially attractive reasons for this, I have not been convinced. Despite the fact that his very argument helped to "convert" me from amillennialism, I can't accept some of the dichotomy of a solely future millennium. But here in his book "What Shall I Believe?" Strong places around with words and their meaning to present a thoroughly thought-provoking piece. A majority of what follows will be simple quotation.

In the section "When shall these things be?" which is a quaint reference to the Olivet Discourse, Strong writes these words,

Is that day near, or is it far away? We are reminded of the controversy between the premillennialists and the post-millennialists. I am persuaded that a careful study of Scripture will show that each of these views has its element of truth, and that with some qualifications we may admit both into our scheme of doctrine.

For a complete statement of my faith in this important matter I must refer to my Systematic Theology (3 : 1013-1014). But I venture to summarize what I there teach, and to preface that summary with three general remarks: first, that Christ's manifestations are primarily spiritual and invisible, and only afterwards are visible and physical; secondly, that Scripture and the history of the church show that this priority of the spiritual in Christ's manifestations was the faith of the early apostles and their disciples; and thirdly, that we may reasonably expect that Christ's final manifestation of himself will follow the same rule of spirituality first, and physical impressiveness afterwards.

The importance of this may not initially be seen. Later quotes will help to clarify but I'll attempt to explain in clearer language. Strong believes the future return of Christ to occur in two parts, a spiritual resurrection that restores the spirit of the early church to the church. This is establish the reign of Christ on the earth in a fashion typically shared by believers of postmillennialism. Only after this will the final eschaton occur when Christ returns to judge the world. This all stems from a fascinating reading of Revelation 20 that can be read in Strong's Systematic Theology (for those near the "Torrey Library" this is available upon request).

This concept is defend by Strong through a summary of texts from the New Testament,

There are four separate instances in which this priority of the spiritual appears. There is, first, a spiritual death (" dead through your trespasses and sins" Eph. 2:1); but secondly a physical and literal death ("This is the second death, even the lake of fire," Rev. 20:14). First, again, there is a spiritual judgment (Is. 26:9; John 3:13; 12:31); but secondly, an outward and literal judgment (Acts 17: 31). First, there is an invisible and spiritual coming of Christ (Matt. 16: 28; John 14: 16, 18 and John 14: 3) ; but afterwards, a final, visible, and literal coming (Matt. 25 : 31). So also, first, a spiritual resurrection, already in some cases accomplished (John 5:25,—" the hour cometh, and now is "); but also a physical and literal resurrection (John 5:28, 29—"The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice"). So we may regard "the first resurrection" in Rev. 20:8 as spiritual and invisible, while the second resurrection, mentioned in verse 13 which follows, is clearly visible.

In other words, Christ's second coming is both of these: it is pre-millennial spiritually, but post-millennial physically and visibly. At the beginning of the thousand years of conquest and success, Christ comes to his church in mighty reinforcement of its spiritual energies. At the end of a thousand years of peace and progress, Christ comes to his church visibly and literally, in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, to reward his faithful followers and to put an end to the opposition of his foes.

It should be clear at this point that when Strong uses the term "premillennial" he does not mean it in any fashion that is agreeable to the modern view. However, I applaud Strong in attempting to synthesize a view of the two within a Biblical model. In an effort to emphasize our need for this spiritual premillennialism Strong wrote the following,

This first pre-millennial coming by his Spirit seems needed, to make the second coming intelligible or possible. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son; for without spiritual preparation of the world in the knowledge of its sin, the first coming of Christ in the flesh would not have manifested God. So the fullness of time must come, before Christ can manifest himself literally and visibly in his second coming; for without spiritual preparation the church will not be able to understand his manifestation... 

So the visible coming is preceded by an invisible coming, and this is pre-millennial. When the church arises and shines because her Light is come invisibly, then he who is the Light personified will come in power and glory, and that coming will be post-millennial. Our duty, then, is not to expect a speedy second advent in the clouds of heaven, but to pray for a mighty coming of Christ in the hearts of his apathetic and slumbering people, rousing them to trust his promise and to conquer the world.

But the internal is not all. Body and soul go together. Christ is the Savior of the body also, and when he is manifested, then we shall be manifested with him in glory (Col. 3:4). But that shall be after, and not before, the spiritual victory has been won.

Pre-millennialism, when it means the immediate end of the present dispensation and the sudden dawn of the day of judgment, is often the cause of half-heartedness in Christian enterprise. Why work in the vineyard, when the Master may come before the harvest? But Pre-millennialism, when it means the spiritual coming of Christ, to refresh and strengthen his army for conflict and victory, is an incentive to the most vigorous and enthusiastic effort. Let us be pre-millennialists of the latter sort.

While the language is similar the impact must been seen. This "premillennialism" is to inaugurate the power of the church to reign in the millennium. Not to undermine his views on the postmillennial truth Strong concluded the section with these words,

Let us be post-millennialists also: I fear that many who object to Pre-millennialism have really lost faith in any literal and visible coming of Christ. The gradual spread of Christian truth is enough for them, and they give a purely spiritual interpretation to all promises of Christ's manifestation. I will not say that these brethren have given up all faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures, but their conception of inspiration is a very different one from mine. And when Scripture teaches of a coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven, of the changing of the body of our humiliation into the likeness of his glorified body, and of a new city of God in which dwells righteousness, I cannot think that it is to be interpreted figuratively.

Paul has no manner of doubt about the matter, for he says: "We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." "For our citizenship is in heaven whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20-21).

So I think that, with Paul, we may be postmillennialists also, expecting that, at Christ's final manifestation of himself at the end of the millennium, " we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Let us pray then for his coming and manifestation in our hearts, that we may be prepared for his coming and manifestation in the world.

I hope the words of August. H. Strong have spurred minds to greater depth of thought. In the future we may look at some of his more pointed words about the book of Revelation.

Matthew 16:27-28 - Don Preston Review #13

Matthew 16:27-28 - Don Preston Review #12