Talk of a Second Advent Revived by the War
A Manifesto of London Clergymen States That "The Revelation of Our Lord May Be Expected at Any Moment"
[Current Opinion, February 1918]
One of the curious by-products of the war has been a revival of interest in Biblical prophecies supposed to relate to the Second Coming of Christ. "Post-millennialists" and "pre-millerinialists" have rushed into print; old books on the subject have appeared in new editions; sermons and lectures dealing with the various interpretations are eagerly listened to and discussed. In England the entire question has aroused special interest by reason of the fact that Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, Dr. R. B. Meyer and eight other well-known clergymen have published a manifesto entitled "The Significance of the Hour," which states:
"1. That the present crisis points towards the close of the times of the Gentiles.
"2. That the Revelation of our Lord may be expected at any moment, when He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His Resurrection.
"3. That the completed Church will be translated to be 'forever with the Lord.'
"4. That Israel will be restored to its own land in unbelief, and be afterwards converted by the appearance of Christ on its behalf.
"5. That all human schemes of reconstruction must be subsidiary to the second coming of our Lord, because all nations will then be subject to His rule.
"6. That under the reign of Christ there will be a further great effusion of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.
"7. That the truths embodied in this stalement are of the utmost practical value in determining, Christian character and action with reference to the pressing problems of the hour.
This manifesto, which was accompanied by a request that all ministers of religion in London and its vicinity who are in agreement with it should forward name and address with a view to a united meeting, has elicited considerable discussion. The London Christian World prints "a rejoinder signed by seventeen prominent churchmen who declare that they cannot refrain from expressing profound regret at the appearance of the manifesto. "We feel it to be a distinct misfortune," they say, "that at a time when the very existence of our faith is being challenged this attempt should be made to divert the thought of serious people in a direction which is, to say the least, highly controversial, and upon which men of equal learning and devotion entertain widely different views." To the same paper Principal P. T. Forsyth, of Hackney College, Hampstead, writes: "Such views are always apt to float up, to the surface in a time of serious crisis; but they rest on a treatment of Scripture which the Holy Spirit, by His great gift to the Church of historical scholarship, has long been making obsolete, which the moral principle of the kingdom of God antiquates, and which turns the Bible from a grand Sacrament to a millstone round the neck of the Gospel." The Christian World comments editorially:
"In unexpected and surprising ways, and with triumphant effect, Christ has again and again come to His people in their dark days, ever since the outpouring of Pentecost. And in unity of earnest faith and prayer the whole Church may well seek and hope for a new and glorious coming at the present time. But religious leaders should be careful and wise to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, always sane and practical, when he urged the Thessalonians not to let expectations of the Lord's coming unsettle them or disturb them in their daily life and work and service."
On this side of the water, Zion's Herald, the Boston Methodist weekly, warns its readers against what it terms "an insidious propaganda of pessimism, rapidly spreading, that is threatening to cut the very nerve of the church." It goes on to say:
"Christ knows nothing in His preaching of a millennial age; He has nothing to say concerning the thousand years of reign with the righteous. Neither have the authors of the Gospels nor Paul. This entire system finds its foundation and superstructure in the highly colored symbolism of the Book of Revelation, and in a single section at that.
"Just what the symbolism may mean in its entirety, no one has ever yet been able to interpret. It is very certain, however, that if this particular kind of millennium as proclaimed by its ardent advocates, with its preliminary collapse of Christianity, was intended to hold the important place that they give it in the Christian system, Christ would have made it so plain that he who runs might read.
"The second coming of Christ is a very precious teaching of the Christian church. He who repeats the Lord's Prayer, or bows the head as the words of the Creed come from his lips, or in approving silence listens at the grave to the solemn Words of the committal service, asserts his belief in the return of Christ. He will come again in the day of His final triumph. 'Before him shall be gathered all nations: and "he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.' He shall return. Of that there can be no doubt. But there is a vast difference between the assertion of this fundamental truth in connection with our Christian faith as plainly taught by Christ, and the fantastic period of millennial reign pictured by the present-day prophets of calamity with all that such a reign as they conceive involves."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald