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"What can we say, but that ingenious men have strange dreams; and these they sometimes mistake for realities." - John Wesley.

It has been said that John Wesley was a premillennialist; that he contended for that faith, none more earnestly; that Methodism once grasped and utilized it with power; yea, that it's "foundations were laid deep in the premillennial faith of the pure apostolic and primitive church."

In support of these assertions the writer appeals to Tyerman. Tyerman does say that Wesley endorsed the doctrine "that at Christ's second coming the martyrs will be raised, and for a thousand years will reign with Christ in Jerusalem," and that that reign will be visible. But he also says in the same place: "This is a matter which none of Wesley's biographers have noticed."

There were six biographers of Wesley before Tyerman. And as he makes no claim to the discovery of any new facts touching this matter, the presumption is as six to one that Tyerman was wrong just then, for if the facts were as above related, they were of very great importance, and it is not supposable that six men would ignore them. The writer above quoted, and also Tyerman, appeal to a certain letter as proof of Wesley's premillennial faith. Does that letter contain what they say it does? Here is what they report of it: —

"The doctrine which Justin deduced from the prophets and apostles, and in which he was undoubtedly followed by the Fathers of the second and third centuries, is this: the souls of them who have been martyred for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and of those who have not worshipped the beast, neither received his mark, shall live and reign with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years are finished. Now to say that they (the Fathers) believe this, is neither more nor less than to say they believe the Bible."

Does this letter say a word about Christ's second coming, or His visible reign, or the reign of the saints in Jerusalem? Not a word of it is said or implied. On Rev. xx. 4, Wesley says: "They reigned with Christ not on earth, but in heaven." How does their reign with Christ in heaven prove either His or their reign in Jerusalem or on earth? Were not those ingenious men "dreaming" when they thought they found premillennialism in that letter ?

The writer above quoted appeals to Wesley's commendation of a book in which premillennialism is taught, and also to Tyerman's declaration that Wesley held "in substance" the opinions of its author. Tyerman names four of the author's "chief points," three of which any post-millennialist may hold, and so "in substance" may agree with him though differing at the point at issue in this discussion. Wesley, in his "Notes on the New Testament," followed Bengel largely but definitely on the nearness of the binding of Satan and the millennium; also in the opinion that Rev. xx. 1-11 included two thousand years, in the first of which Satan will be bound and the church and world will have "immunity from all evils and an affluence of all blessings " — the millennium. During the second thousand years Satan will be loosed, and "while the saints reign with Christ in heaven, men on earth will be careless and secure." After this second thousand years, according to Wesley, the second advent will occur. His words are unequivocal and decisive: "Quickly he [Satan] will be bound; when he is loosed the martyrs will live and reign with Christ. Then follows His coming in glory" (Notes on Rev. xx. 1-11). So, in his sermon on "The Great Assize," Wesley distinctly places the second advent at the judgment (Rev. xx. 11-15), which the apostle says and all admit is after the millennium. These facts show conclusively that Wesley placed the second advent after the millennium. And in this he parted from Bengel, if, as alleged, he placed the advent before the millennium.

Partisan criticism has torn some of Wesley's expressions from their connections and twisted them from their intent, to give the impression that he was a Universalist. So on this subject, expressions may be found in his popular addresses which, literally interpreted, would make him appear to teach what he never intended. Sober criticism tests such expressions by his uniform and expositional teaching. Premillennialists think they find their peculiarities in certain texts. But in almost every text Wesley negatives their expositions. Below are a few examples. The figures '78, '86, refer to the reports of the Prophetic Conferences of 1878 and 1886, which may be taken as the best accredited representation of premillennial thought of Europe and America. The letter S. refers to Rev. A. B. Simpson's "Gospel of the Kingdom." References to Wesley are to his "Notes on the New Testament" and his sermons.




Christ's second advent, before the millennium ('86, p. 43).

Christ comes the second time to:

  1. Set up His kingdom--a temporal kingdom ('86, pp. 149, 177).
  2. To convert the world ('78, p. S).
  3. To open a new dispensation of grace and missions ('86, pp. 31, 37).
  4. "To steal away His waiting church," not all saints, but His bride, "elect within the elect," into "the air" to" the marriage of the Lamb" (S., pp. 120, 221).

After the millennium (notes on Rev. xx. 1-11; x. 7. Sermons vol. 1, pp. 126-135, 454).

Christ comes the second time to:

  1. It was set up at His first advent (On Matt. xvi. 28; Mark i. 15; ix. 1). A temporal kingdom a "dream" (On Acts i. 6).
  2. To judge the world (On matt xxv. 31-46).
  3. The present "the last dispensation of grace" (On 1 John ii. 18).
  4. To take "believers of all ages . . . in the same moment to be with the Lord in heaven" (On I Thess. iv. 15, 17).

The conversion of the world "only at and by the return of Christ" ('78, p. 8).

The leaven, Matt. xiii. 33, means corruption, apostasy ('78, p. 209. S., p. 10).

The foolish virgins "not lost, but they lose something" (S., p. 53).

Christ will rebuild the kingdom of David and "enter upon the kingdom" at His second advent ('78, p. 490; '86, p. 149)

Then the Jews will be chief of the nations and reign as princes ('78, p. 236; '86, p. 122; S., p. 12).

There are different judgments, some say three, others, four ('86, p. 114; S., p. 227)

The judgment of Matt. xxv. 31-46 is not that of Rev. xx. 11-15 ('78, p. 252).

"The believer shall not come into judgment" that of Rev. xx. 11-15 ('78, p. 308; '86, p. 114).

The purpose of God is not to convert the world in this dispensation ('78, p. 281; '86, p. 37).

Saints only will be raised at the second advent ('78, pp. 84, 102, 308).

Saints literally eating and drinking "ambrosial viands" at Christ's table, and sitting on thrones, etc. ('78, pp. 180, 227,265).

The earth will be burned (2 Peter, iii. 7-12), but "after the fire there will still be nations in the flesh." "The earth and Israel will remain" ('86, p. 149).

"Thus will the Gospel leaven the world" (On Matt. xix. 33).

It means the gospel of Christ (On Matt. xiii. 33).

"Those poor wretches who had so long deceived... their own souls .... Oh, no! the time is past and returns no more" (On Matt. xxv. 9).

"The kingdom of the Messiah was spiritual, not temporal." "It came with power at Pentecost." "Look not for it in distant times, it is come, it is present in the souls of believers" (On Acts xxviii. 23; Luke xvii. 21; Mark ix. 1).

A temporal kingdom in which the Jews should have dominion over the nations — a dream (On Acts i. 6)

One judgment universal and eternal (Ser. I., pp. 126 -135, 454).

The same (Ser. I., pp. 129, 454).

They will be the first judged at that judgment (Ser. I. p. 131).

"The design of Christ's commission" was to "make disciples of all nations" (On Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15).

Every human being will then be raised (Ser. I, p. 129).

These are "figurative terms" respecting "the spiritual honors and delights of Christ's kingdom of grace and glory" (On Luke xxii. 30).

"The heavens and the earth" — the universe — will pass away; "no place was found for them," "they ceased to exist, they were no more" (On 2 Peter iii. 7-12; Rev. xx. 11). [How Israel and the nations in the flesh will dodge this fire, they have not said.]

The above is a fair but by no means a full exhibit of the antagonism of Wesley to modern premillennialism. Mr. Simpson's notions about bridal company and the wedding in the air at which some of the saved will not be wedded; about the Jews mourning as they see Christ's train sweep by and leave them; about the New Jerusalem, "a solid cube" "376 miles each way," "poised just above the earth;" about the enormous increase of population after the advent, necessitating perhaps a colonization of "stars" over which some of "the true and tried will be rulers with a whole world to love and bless;" have not been inserted in the above list for probably they are his own "whimsies" not endorsed outside of his following. But the points above named sufficiently indicate the substance of the best accredited type of modern premillennialism, concerning which be it remembered that Wesley never taught a single point named above; that his teaching is opposed to every one; that Methodism never had anything to do with premillennialism, ancient or modern, but to antagonize it.

It is claimed that premillennialism was the faith of the primitive church for three hundred years. I reply: —

1. An essential factor of the premillennialism which we are examining is the belief that the world is to be converted at, by, or after Christ's second advent. Eliminate this doctrine from the schemes of the Prophetic Conferences and of Mr. Simpson, and they cease to be what they are.

But there is no evidence, even from their own witnesses, that that belief was ever the faith of the primitive church, or any part of that faith — not even of the premillennialists themselves. Not one of their witnesses testifies to any such thing. They testify to the prevalence of ancient premillennialists which, bating its whims, which premillennialism never mention now, was "for substance" the belief that Christ was soon coming to reign visibly at Jerusalem and those who had believed on Him would be made immortal and reign with Him a thousand years on earth in the enjoyment of physical and spiritual delights. Comparing this with the doctrines above stated, it is apparent that the ancient and modern types are so radically unlike that all argument from that for this is sophistical.

2. As to the ancient type called chiliasm and its prevalence, the following facts are distinctly attested by the authorities named: "That the Jews were to enjoy a thousand years of glory upon the renovated earth under the reign of Messiah, who was soon to appear at Jerusalem, to raise their dead and expel and destroy their oppressors, was a prevalent belief at the time of Christ" (Milman). "This notion in a modified form passed over to the Christians" (Neander), "was accepted its modified form by many and was rejected by many orthodox Christians" (Justin). "It never was the faith of the primitive church" (Neander), "nor a test of orthodoxy" (Schlegel). "Its flourishing period was about one hundred years" (Shedd). "It began to decline about the middle of the third century" (Mosheim). At the close of that century it "seems to have been generally abandoned" (Burton). Among the causes of its abandonment were its "unspiritual excesses" (Alford), its "gross carnalism" (Jamieson and Fausset, premillennialists). It produced divisions and apostasies of whole churches" (Eusebius). "When tested by the Scriptures it collapsed" (Dionysius). "There is not a trace of it in any summary of Christian doctrines during the first three hundred years, not even in those written by premillennialists, Justin, Ireneus, Tertullian. Heretics were very fond of it, were the first to preach it among nominal Christians, and the last to quit it" (Burton).

3. Of the historians who lived in either of the first five hundred years, not one has yet been found who even intimates that premillennialism was ever the faith of the primitive church. It has appeared frequently in church history, only to work mischief wherever it obtained organic form. Its present type is born of doubt, feeds on doubt, and generates doubt as to God's purpose and plan touching the conversion of the world. This doubt by the perversion of language is called "faith." As in the past, when time has shown its falsity the wreckage of souls will be lamentable.

Zion' s Herald.

The text for this book comes from the Gospel Truth web site:
A Substitute for Holiness or Antinomianism Revived. Permission is given to share their texts, with acknowledgement.