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Postmillennialism: Approaches by Imperceptible Degrees by Loraine Boettner

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Postmillennialism

The golden age of righteousness is, of course, not to be thought of as beginning suddenly, or on any particular date. It cannot be pinpointed on the calendar, for it comes as the result of a long, slow process. ‘The kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation’ (Luke 17:20). It is ‘first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear’ (Mark 4:28). Or again, it is ‘precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little’ (Is. 28:10).

The coming of the Millennium is like the coming of summer, although ever so much more slowly and on a much grander scale. In the struggle between the seasons there are many advances and many apparent setbacks. Time and again the first harbingers of spring appear, only to be overcome by the winter winds. It often seems that the struggle has been lost and that the cold of winter will never be broken. But gradually the moderate spring breezes take over, and after a time we find ourselves in the glorious summer season.

Trying to pinpoint the date on which the Millennium begins is like trying to distinguish the day or year when Medieval history ended and Modern history began. The discovery of America by Columbus usually is taken as the landmark dividing the two. At least for us as Americans that is where medievalism ends and where the story of America begins. But that discovery made no immediate change in the life of the world, and in fact Columbus himself died without ever knowing that he had discovered a new world. In retrospect and for convenience we arbitrarily choose a date as the division point between two eras. But in reality one such age blends into another so slowly and so imperceptibly that no change is recognizable at the time. Only with the perspective of history can we look back and set an approximate date, perhaps within a century or two, as to when one era ceased and another began. So it is with the coming of the Millennium. Undoubtedly it will follow the law of all of the other great periods in the history of the Church, being gradual and uncertain in its approach.

We find that time and again during the Church age there has been progress toward higher moral and spiritual standards, only to suffer tragic setback through a series of wars or retrogressions. Looked at from the standpoint of present day events it may not be possible to say which way the tides are moving. But over the centuries there is progress, great progress if we look back five hundred, or a thousand, or two thousand years. Certainly many of those who tell us that the world is getting worse would change their minds very quickly if they suddenly found themselves back in colonial days, or in the Dark Ages, or in the pre-Christian era.

The following paragraph by Dr. William Hendriksen, Professor in Calvin Seminary, in regard to the ‘binding’ of Satan in Revelation 20: 1-3, is much to the point. We differ with Dr. Hendriksen only in that we regard the millennial age as belonging primarily to a future era, while he as an Amillennialist understands it as embracing the entire Church age. But that is beside the point. Says he:

‘The Church has become international. The international Church is very powerful; like a mighty army moves the Church of God!… The particularism of the Old Testament has made place for the universalism of the New. The Bible, just recently, was translated into its thousandth (!) tongue. The influence of the Gospel upon the thought and life of mankind can scarcely be overestimated. In some countries the blessed truth of Christianity affects life in all its phases: political, economic, social, and intellectual. Only the individual who lacks the historical sense and is, therefore, unable to see the present in the light of conditions which prevailed throughout the world before Christ’s ascension, can fail to appreciate the glories of the millennial age in which we are now living. Truly, the prophecy found in Psalm 72 is being fulfilled before our very eyes’ (More than Conquerors, p. 227).

We have made much progress during the Christian era, but still, on postmillennial grounds, it hardly seems that even in the most advanced nations of the earth we have seen anything that is worthy of being called more than the early dawn of the Millennium. We might say that as yet we still are engaged primarily in laying the foundation rather than building the superstructure. Some Amillennialists, as we have just seen, deny that there is to be a future golden age on either post- or premillennial principles, and hold instead that the term embraces the entire period between the first and second coming of Christ. We believe, however, that while we are making progress we still have a long distance to go, and that the Millennium will be something much more advanced and glorious than anything that has yet been seen.

We hold that Christ is not merely the potential victor, but the actual victor over sin. During the interadventual reign He is steadily putting into effect the victory that He has won, gradually overcoming the forces of evil, until all His enemies shall have been made the footstool of His feet (Acts 2:35). The dispensation in which we now are is a period of advancing conquest, so that when He returns it is to a converted world. Appropriate here are the words of Dr. Samuel G. Craig:

‘Certainly on the basis of Scripture we are warranted in looking forward to a period relatively golden as compared with that which we now enjoy. Christ is today the head of a kingdom, a kingdom that is not merely engaged in conflict with evil but that is triumphing over evil. We are today living in the midst of a period that is relatively golden as measured with the period in the midst of which the New Testament was written. Moreover, Christ is to go on conquering and to conquer until the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ, until in fact the prayer He taught His disciples to pray shall have been realized, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth’ ‘ ( Jesus As He Was And Is, p. 278).

A truly Christianized world was the goal set before the disciples by Christ Himself, for he said, ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations,’ And that this might be a long, slow process was indicated by the form of the promise that he gave in connection with that command: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Matt. 28:20). The leaven is to work until it leavens the whole lump. The kingdom, like the little mustard seed, is to grow until it becomes a tree. Here too is to be found the fulfillment of the promise, ‘For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea’ (Is. 11:9). John gives us the prophecy that the Devil shall be bound for a thousand years, ‘that he should deceive the nations no more’ (Rev. 20:3). And that this latter prophecy relates not to the intermediate state, nor to the eternal order, but to the present world order, should be clear from the fact that John saw the angel ‘coming down out of heaven’ to the earth, and from the fact that the nations, entities which relate to this present world order, are specifically mentioned. The nations as such have no place in the heavenly kingdom.

The earth during the present dispensation never can, of course, become paradise regained. But a Christianized world can award a foretaste of heaven, an earnest of the good things that God has in store for those who love Him. In principle Christians already are partakers of the heavenly life. They have been ‘born anew’ or ‘born from above’ (John 3:3); they have been ‘made alive,’ whereas they formerly were ‘dead’ through trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1): they are ‘partakers of a heavenly calling’ (Heb. 3:1); they have ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ (Heb. 6:4); their ‘citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil. 3:20); and Paul says that already God has ‘raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6). When we are born anew we are born into the Kingdom and partake of the preliminary benefits of the Kingdom even in this world.

Hence we see the world progressing slowly but surely toward an appointed goal. Much progress has been made. Already the beams of the rising Sun of Righteousness are beginning to displace the darkness and confusion and wretchedness and ruin that they are destined to chase away. Says Dr. Warfield, ‘According to the New Testament, this time in which we live is precisely the time in which our Lord is conquering the world to Himself; and it is the completion of this conquest which, as it marks the completion of His redemptive work, so it sets the time for His return to earth to consummate His kingdom and establish it in its eternal form’ (Article, The Gospel of the Second Coming, in The Bible Magazine, April 1915).