‘It may here be observed, that from the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always have been by remarkable effusions, at special seasons of mercy, as may fully appear hereafter in our further prosecution of our subject.’
JONATHAN EDWARDS History of the Work of Redemption, 1774, period I, part I (Edwards’ Works, 1840, vol 1
‘What can be the reason of this sad observation, That when formerly a few lights raised up in the nation, did shine so as to scatter and dispel the darkness of popery in a little time; yet now when there are more, and more learned men amongst us, the darkness comes on apace? Is it not because they were men filled with the Holy Ghost, and with power; and many of us are only filled with light and knowledge, and inefficacious notions of God’s truth? Doth not always the spirit of the ministers propagate itself amongst the people? A lively ministry, and lively Christians.’
ROBERT TRAILL (1642-1716) By What Means May Ministers Best Win Souls to Christ, 1682 (Traill’s Works1682, vol I, 250)
FOLLOWING as it did so closely upon the Reformation it is not surprising that the Puritan movement in England believed so firmly in revivals of religion as the great means by which the Church advances in the world. For the Reformation was itself the greatest revival since Pentecost — a Spring-time of new life for the Church on such a scale that the instances recorded in the apostolic era of three thousand being converted on one day, and of a ‘great multitude of the priests’ becoming ‘obedient to the faith’, no longer sounded incredible.
The Reformation, and still more, Puritanism, have been considered from many aspects but it has been too often overlooked that the main features of these movements, as, for instance, the extensiveness of their influence, the singular position given to Scripture and the transformation in character of the morally careless, are all effects of revival. When the Holy Spirit is poured out in a day of power the result is bound to affect whole communities and even nations. Conviction of sin, an anxiety to possess the Word of God, and dependence upon those truths which glorify God in mans s salvation, are inevitable consequences.
Today men may wonder at the influences which changed the spiritual direction of England and Scotland so rapidly four hundred years ago, making them Bible-reading nations and witnesses to a creed so unflattering to human nature and hateful to human pride.
Innumerable writers have attempted to explain the phenomena by political and social considerations. They have supposed that the success which the Reformers and Puritans achieved occurred through a curious combination of historical circumstances which cannot be expected to happen again. To the Christians of that era, however, the explanation was entirely different. They read in Scripture that when the Spirit is poured from on high then the wilderness becomes a fruitful field (Isa. 32.15). They read also, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Zech. 4.6), and they attributed all the spiritual renewal of their age to the mercy of God. In taking this view they understood at once that all the successes of the Reformation were repeatable — as repeatable as the victories of the apostolic age — for Scripture places no limitation upon the Spirit’s work of glorifying Christ and extending his kingdom. Thus there was recovered at the time of the Reformation belief in what may be called revival Christianity, and the attention which the Puritans who followed gave to this area of truth profoundly influenced the following centuries and gave to the English-speaking world what may be called the classic school of Protestant belief on revival. So prevalent indeed did this outlook become that until the nineteenth century all who wrote specifically upon the subject represented the Puritan standpoint. Of these writers the most notable who treated the subject of revival at length were Robert Fleming (i6 30—1694) in his The Fulfilling of the Scripture, Jonathan Edwards (1703—1758) in several works, and John Gillies (1712—I 796) in his Historical Collections Relating to Remarkable Periods of the Success of the Gospel.
* * *
The commencement of the Reformation in England and Scotland was marked by a thirst for Scripture among the people; Tyndale’s version of the New Testament circulated in both realms from 1526 onwards and soon a train of preachers appeared, at first small in number, whose ministry was attended by effects which had not been commonly seen for many long centuries. Of George Wishart, the Scottish reformer, martyred in 1546, we have this account of his open-air preaching: ‘He came to a dyke in a moor edge, upon the south-west side of Mauchline, upon the which he ascended. The whole multitude stood and sat about him (God gave the day pleasing and hot). He continued in preaching more than three hours. In that sermon God wrought so wonderfully with him that one of the most wicked men that was in that country, named Laurence Rankin, laird of Shiel, was converted. The tears ran from his eyes in such abundance that all men wondered. His conversion was without hypocrisy, for his life and conversation witnessed it in all times to come.’
Scenes like this were soon to become common in the northern kingdom. In May, 1556, John Knox, running the gauntlet of the Catholic powers who still controlled the country, preached for ten consecutive days in Edinburgh. When he returned to Scotland again, in 1559, the spiritual revival became general. ‘God did so multiply our number’, Knox writes of the growth of the Protestant cause, ‘that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.’ In a letter to an English friend written on June 23, 1559, he says: ‘Now, forty days and more, hath my God used my tongue in my native country, to the manifestation of His glory. Whatsoever now shall follow, as touching my own carcass, His holy name be praised. The thirst of the poor people, as well as of the nobility here, is wondrous great, which putteth me in comfort that Christ Jesus shall triumph for a space here, in the north and extreme parts of the earth.’
Looking back on this glorious period the Scottish Church historian, Kirkton, later wrote: ‘The Church of Scotland hath been singular among the churches. And, first, it is to be admired that, whereas in other nations the Lord thought it enough to convict a few in a city, village, or family to himself, leaving the greater part in darkness, in Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years after popery was discharged in Scotland, there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! here a nation born in one day.’ Even when allowance is made for the number who were carried by outward persuasion rather than by inner spiritual conviction the history of the Scottish Reformation bears eloquent record to the vast success which the Gospel then had. It was a great revival.
The same holds true of England. Despite the severest penalties against the possession of Scripture, and against unauthorized preaching, spiritual concern spread rapidly in the later years of Henry VIII, after the appearance of Tyndale’s New Testament. During the reign of the boy King, Edward VI (1547—1553), the public preaching of the gospel by Latimer, Hooper, Bradford and others was attended with remarkable success. An entry in the records of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, bears its own witness to the way in which people pressed to hear the Word of God; it notes that one shilling and sixpence was expended, ‘for mending divers pews that were broken when Doctor Latimer did preach’. Speaking of a few years later, John Jewel writes thus of open-air gatherings in the City of London: ‘Sometimes at Paul’s Cross six thousand persons were sitting together, which was very grievous to the papists.’ Details like these show that the English Reformation was much more than a series of legislative Acts executed by the authorities. Political decisions certainly entered in, but the policy of burning which claimed nearly three hundred Protestants in the reign of Mary Tudor (1553—1558) served to demonstrate that convictions were planted in many hearts which no force could uproot. Upon the death of Mary the last English Catholic monarch of Tudor days passed from the scene, and two years later, in 1560, the Scottish Parliament formally abolished the Catholic religion in Scotland.
The storm of persecution which blew itself out in Mary’s reign did more than test the roots of the new faith. By driving into temporary exile a number of the younger spiritual leaders it brought them into closer contact with the Reformed churches of the Continent. The influence of the two Continental theologians, Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr, had already been felt as they had taught at Cambridge and Oxford respectively in the days of Edward VI, but now, as a congregation of some two hundred exiles gathered at Geneva, the full weight of Calvin’s ministry — as mighty in the pulpit as in the lecture hall —was experienced at first hand. From this haven in the Swiss Alps Knox and Christopher Goodman went to Scotland, While the others returned to England after the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558. Thereafter the two groups in England and Scotland developed along parallel lines, like two streams originating at one fountain. The fountain was not so much Geneva, as the Bible which the exiles newly translated and issued with many marginal notes in 1560. Between that date and 1644 no less than 140 editions of the Geneva Bible were to be issued and, as a modern writer says, ‘it was read in every Presbyterian and Puritan home in both realms’. When these two streams came together again at the convening of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, their unanimity was given peerless expression in the great truths of evangelical religion set down in the Confession of Faith and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. In their understanding of the gospel and in practical divinity the Christians of England and Scotland were then one, and the expositions of the Scottish divines were as eagerly read in London as were the writings of the English Puritans north of the Border.
The problem which confronted the English and Scottish evangelicals in 1560 was basically the same, namely, the need to spread the gospel at the parish level in countries which had become formally Protestant. In England the main hindrance to this endeavour was the dead-weight of the Church, which though ‘reformed’ by Acts of Parliament, remained in many areas in its old pre-Reformation spiritual condition. For the next century the ‘Puritans’, as they were first nicknamed in the 1560's gave themselves to the work of renewal in the national Church — a work which was terminated by the ejection of most of them after the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. The Puritan age proper spanned these hundred years.
In Scotland, from the outset, the Church of Scotland was free from the entanglements which the semi-reformed state of the Church caused in England. At one blow the old priesthood and episcopal hierarchy lost their places, except in the still Catholic Highlands, and the leadership of the Reformed Church was in the hands of Knox (c.1514—1572) and his brethren. Yet the presbyterial form of church government, which set them free from the corruption of prelacy and made possible the exercise of a scriptural church discipline, was not long allowed to continue unimpeded. James VI of Scotland had no more enthusiasm for experimental godliness than his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, who was deposed from the throne in 1567, and shortly he came to set himself against Knox’s successors, an activity in which he could engage with all the more power when he also became James I, King of England in 1603. Thereafter, aided by willing bishops, he worked to shackle the independency of the Scottish Church and to suppress the English Puritans. This was the policy which led at length to the Civil War of 1642 and the defeat of his son, Charles I.
Despite the force exerted against both Puritans and Covenanters (the term usually attached to the Scots brethren because of their national covenants affirming the Reformed religion) they both prospered and that because the rising tide of spiritual life could not be effectively countered. A school of preachers arose in both realms of whom it could truly be said that their gospel came not in word only, ‘but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’. (1 Thess. 1.5)
In England the University of Cambridge was the nursery for this school. Thomas Cartwright gave the movement its momentum in the late 1560's when his preaching in Great St. Mary’s became so popular that ‘the sexton was fain to take down the windows, by reason of the multitudes that came to hear him’. Cartwright and others were soon deposed for their boldness but the watchword of the movement continued to be, ‘Pray for reformation by the power of the word Preached’. From the 1570’s onward, friends of Cartwright, such as Richard Rogers, John Dod and Arthur Hildersham, began to put this into practice at the parish level. In the next thirty years the few swelled to a flood, partly through the foundation of Emmanuel College at Cambridge by Sir Walter Mildmay in 1584 (‘to render as many as possible fit for the administration of the Divine Word and Sacraments’), and partly by the conversion of William Perkins.
Perkins, born in the year of Elizabeth’s accession, became a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1577 when he was without any spiritual concern. The great change came while he was still a student. At the age of twenty-four he was made a Fellow of his college and later, for over fifteen years until his early death in 1602, preached at St. Andrew’s Church in the same university city. In these capacities Perkins had enormous influence. Even in 1613, when Thomas Goodwin went up to Cambridge, he tells us that ‘the whole town was filled with the discourse of the power of Mr. Perkins’ ministry’. ‘Master Perkins,’ says Samuel Clarke, ‘held forth a burning and shining light, the sparks whereof did fly abroad into all the corners of the kingdom.’
A similar power rested upon the ministry of Laurence Chaderton (c.1536—1640), the first Master of Emmanuel College, a position he resigned in favour of another Puritan, John Preston, in 1622. For fifty years Chaderton was also lecturer at St. Clement’s, Cambridge, and when he laid down this charge in 1618, at the age of seventy-two, it is said that forty ministers begged him to continue, attributing their conversion to him. Thomas Goodwin reports the words of a Cambridge friend who, speaking of the conviction of sin which accompanied Chaderton’s preaching, declared that ‘when he heard Mr. Chaderton preach the gospel, his apprehension was as if the sun, namely Jesus Christ, shined upon a dunghill’ On one occasion when Chaderton had preached for two hours and promised to stop, he was interrupted by a cry from the congregation, ‘For God’s sake Sir Go on, go on!
By the end of the sixteenth century Cambridge was beginning to reap results from the work done by the first generation of Puritans at the parish level. Richard Rogers, for instance, who toiled with much success at Wethersfield, Essex, from 1574 to 1618, saw Paul Baynes, one of the former pupils at his parish school, become Perkins’ successor in the lectureship in St. Andrew’s Church in 1602. Not wishing to have another like Perkins, the authorities later suspended Baynes, but not before he had been an instrument in the conversion of many, including Richard Sibbes who himself became one of the most successful preachers of the Puritan era. When Sibbes was appointed lecturer at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, in 1610, additional galleries had to be built to accommodate the crowded congregation. After 1615 he was ‘preacher’ at Gray’s Inn, London, but he returned to Cambridge as Master of St. Catherine’s Hall in 1626 and combined this with his London post until his death in 1635. One of the Fellows at St. Catherine’s Hall during this period was Thomas Goodwin, who in a sermon preached at this time reflected thus on the great work of God in Cambridge: ‘If in any age or in any coast it is or hath been full tide, it is now in England.... And this gospel hath made this kingdom and this town as a “crown of glory in the hand of the Lord;” and “the glory of the whole earth”, as Jerusalem is called.’
It is when one looks at some of the ministries produced from this nursery of preachers in Cambridge that the Puritan age as an age of revivals reveals itself. We can here only pause to give a few illustrative examples.
William Gouge (1575—1653), a student at Cambridge in Perkins’ day, became minister of the church at Blackfriars, London, in 1608; here he remained for forty-five years and six months. His general practice was to preach twice on Sunday and once every Wednesday forenoon to a crowded church. His expository sermons on Hebrews numbered more than a thousand, a work which save for half a chapter he had completed for publication by the time of his death. Of this man we read, God made him ‘an aged father in Christ... for thousands have been converted and built up by his ministry’. His son, Thomas Gouge, followed him in the ministry, and after his ejection in 1662 did much to establish the gospel in the Principality of Wales.
Samuel Fairclough (1594—1677) left Cambridge in 1623 for Barnardiston in East Anglia. Six years later he moved to Kedington, seventeen miles from Cambridge, where he remained until the Great Ejection. At the time of his settlement the place was characterized by profanity and ignorance, but ‘when he had been there sometime so great was the alteration that there was not a family in twenty but professed godliness’. Many would ride from Cambridge to hear Fairclough’s Thursday ‘lecture’ and not till long after were those days of spiritual blessing forgotten. Kedington Church, Samuel Clarke tells us, was ‘so thronged, that (though, for a village, very large and capacious, yet) there was no getting in, unless by some hours’ attending before his exercise began; and then the outward walls were generally lined with shoals and multitudes of people, which came (many) from far, (some above twenty miles), so that you could see the Church yard (which was likewise very spacious) barricaded with horses, tied to the outward rails, while their owners were greedily waiting to hear the word of life from his mouth’.’
It is plain that scenes like this were far from rare in East Anglia in the first half of the seventeenth century. Samuel Fairclough’s own father, Lawrence Fairclough, had seen spiritual prosperity in his ministry at Haverhill, Suffolk, before his death in 1603. The successor to his work in Haverhill was one of the most ‘awakening’ of all Puritan preachers and one whose ministry was attended with a power which was still being spoken of in the mid-eighteenth century. This John Rogers, nephew of Richard Rogers of Wethersfield, by whose financial support he studied at Emmanuel from 1588 until 1592. In 1605 he was called from Haverhill to be ‘lecturer’ in the beautiful vale of Dedham, later to be known to the world by the paintings of John Constable but famous in the seventeenth century for the great spiritual harvest which took place under Rogers’ ministry. ‘Let us go to Dedham to get a little fire’ became a common saying among his contemporaries.
One who went to Dedham was Thomas Goodwin, while a student at Cambridge, and many years later when he was Dr. Goodwin and President of Magdalen College, Oxford, he reported his memory of it to John Howe who recorded it as follows:
‘He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible (I am afraid it is more neglected in our days); he personates God to the people, telling them, “Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.” And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, “Lord, whatsoever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible”. And then he personates God again to the people: “Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practise it more, and live more according to it.” But by these actions (as the Doctor told me) he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally (as it were) deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself, when he got out and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.”
Another eye-witness of John Rogers’ ministry was John Angier, ‘who was under his supervision for a period while he completed his preparation for the ministry. ‘Mr. Rogers’, says Angier, ‘was a prodigy of zeal and success in his ministerial labours’ and he recalled how a sense of the greatness of eternal issues would at times overcome the crowded church at Dedham; on one such occasion Rogers took hold of the supports of the canopy over the pulpit with both hands, ‘roaring hideously to represent the torments of the damned’. At another time when Rogers was taking a wedding service he preached on the necessity of the wedding garment: ‘God made the word so effectual that the marriage solemnity was turned into bitter mourning, so that the ministers who were at the marriage were employed in comforting or advising those whose consciences had been awakened by that sermon.’
When the ‘Great Awakening’ began in America in 1740 and its critics complained of the novelty of the outward signs of grief and conviction to be witnessed in many congregations, the aged Timothy Edwards reminded them of how common this had once been in the days of John Rogers.
We shall content ourselves with one further example of the extraordinary measure of the Holy Spirit which rested upon much preaching in England in the Puritan period. This time we can quote from one of the few personal ministerial narratives which survive from three hundred years ago, the autobiography of Richard Baxter (1615-1691).
Baxter was born and spent his youth in Shropshire, a part of England then comparatively little influenced by the Puritan movement. In childhood he heard the word ‘Puritan’ only as a term of scorn in his neighbourhood, the villagers spending Sunday, except for the brief time in which Common-Prayer was read, ‘dancing under a May-Pole and a great tree, not far from my father’s door’. Books, however, did penetrate where there was no worthy preacher. About the age of fifteen Baxter was awakened and went ‘many a-day with a throbbing conscience’ through a reading of Edmund Bunny’s Resolution. Another book, obtained from a travelling pedlar, resolved this state of sorrow: it was Richard Sibbes’ Bruised Reed ‘which opened more the Love of God to me, and gave me a livelier apprehension of the Mystery of Redemption, and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ’. In these new convictions he was further confirmed by the loan of part of William Perkins’ Works from a servant of his father.
Baxter’s theology never reached the full scriptural maturity of the school of Sibbes and Perkins, partly, perhaps, because he did not share the opportunities enjoyed by the many who trained at Cambridge in these years. Nevertheless, as an awakening preacher to the conscience, with constant emphasis on the need for personal godliness, Baxter attained to the front rank among the later Puritans. The most memorable part of his ministry was exercised in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, first for two years preceding the Civil War of 1642-6; then resuming in the late 1640’s when peace was again restored, and continuing until 1660. Looking back on the great change which had been wrought in Kidderminster, Baxter wrote about the year 1666:
‘When I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on his Name, and when I came away there were some streets where there was not past one Family in the side of a street that did not so; and that did not, by professing serious godliness, give us hopes of their sincerity…
‘And God was pleased also to give me abundant encouragement in the Lectures which I preached abroad in other places; as at Worcester, Cleobury, etc., but especially at Dudley and Sheffnal; at the former of which (being the first place that ever I preached in) the poor Nailers and other Labourers would not only crowd the Church as full as ever I saw any in London, but also hang upon the windows and the leads without.., so that I must here, to the praise of my dear Redeemer, set up this pillar of remembrance, even to His praise who hath employed me so many years in so comfortable a work, with such encouraging success!’
Baxter goes on to write of the general spiritual success which marked the Commonwealth period and refutes the sneers of those in the days of Charles II who attributed the ‘godliness’ of the former age to the material profit which men obtained by their hypocrisy:
‘I know in these times you may meet with men that confidently affirm that all religion was then trodden down, and heresy and schism were the only piety; but I give warning to all ages that they take heed how they believe any... I must bear this faithful witness to those times, that as far as I was acquainted, where before there was one godly profitable Preacher, there was then six or ten; and taking one place with another, I conjecture there is a proportionable increase of truly godly people, not counting heretics or perfidious rebels or church disturbers as such: But this increase of godliness was not in all places alike: For in some places where the ministers were formal, or ignorant, or weak and imprudent, contentious or negligent, the parishes were as bad as theretofore. And in some places, where the ministers had excellent parts, and holy lives, and thirsted after the good of souls, and wholly devoted themselves, their time and strength and estates thereunto, and thought no pains or cost too much, there abundance were converted to serious godliness. And with those of a middle state, usually they had a middle measure of success. And I must add this to the true information of posterity, that God did so wonderfully bless the labours of his unanimous faithful ministers, that had it not been for the faction of the Prelatists on one side that drew men off and the factions of the giddy and turbulent Sectaries on the other side, (who pull’d down all government, cried down the ministers, and broke all into confusion, and made the people at their wits’ end, not knowing what religion to be of); together with some laziness and selfishness in many of the ministry, I say, had it not been for these impediments, England had been like in a quarter of an Age to have become a Land of Saints, and a pattern of holiness to all the world and the unmatchable paradise of the earth.’
The testimony of Philip Henry (1631—1696) may also be cited in regard to the prevalence of evangelical religion in the Commonwealth period. Henry went up to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1647, and within a few years when Thomas Goodwin became President of Magdalen College and John Owen Dean of Christ Church, the university enjoyed a period of spiritual life comparable to that known in Cambridge in earlier years. Others then studying or teaching at the university included Joseph Alleine, John Howe and Stephen Charnock. In the early eighteenth century, when the spiritual blight which accompanied the Restoration had done its work, the fashionable Spectator diverted its readers with a tale describing how Goodwin examined applicants at Magdalen not so much on Latin and Greek as on the state of their souls. The examination of one nervous college applicant, ‘bred up by honest parents, was summed up in one short question, namely, Whether he was prepared for death?‘ Ridiculous this might seem to the Spectator’s readers, but Matthew Henry learned differently of the Oxford of those days from his father:
‘He would often mention it with thankfulness to God, what great helps and advantages he had then in the University, not only for learning, but for religion and piety. Serious godliness was in reputation, and besides the public opportunities they had, there were many of the scholars that used to meet together for prayer, and christian conference, to the great confirming of one another’s hearts in the fear and love of God, and the preparing of them for the service of the church in their generation. I have heard him speak of the prudent method they took then about the University sermons on the Lord’s day in the afternoon; which used to be preached by the fellows of colleges in their course; but, that being found not so much for edification, Dr. Owen and Dr. Goodwin performed that service alternately, and the young masters that were wont to preach it, had a lecture on Tuesday appointed them.’
Philip Henry spent the first eight years of his ministry at Worthenbury in Flintshire, and thereafter at Broad Oak, Flintshire, until his death in 1696. In those later years the great benefit which England had formerly enjoyed became the more apparent. ‘He would sometimes say,’ writes his son, ‘that during those years between forty and sixty [i.e. 1640-1660], though on civil accounts there were great disorders, and the foundations were out of course, yet, in the matters of God’s worship, things went well; there was freedom, and reformation, and a face of godliness was upon the nation, though there were those that made but a mask of it. Ordinances were administered in power and purity; and though there was much amiss, yet religion, at least in the profession of it, did prevail. This, saith he, we know very well, let men say what they will of those times.’
‘Old Mr. Hutcheson, minister at Killellan, used to say to Mr. Wodrow, author of the History of the Church of Scotland, “When I compare the times before the restoration  with the times since their revolution , I must own that the young ministers preach accurately and methodically; but there was far more of the power and efficacy of the Spirit and grace of God went along with sermons in those days than now: and, for my own part (all the glory be to God), I seldom set my foot in a pulpit in those times, but I had notice of some blessed effects of the Word”.’
JOHN GILLIES Historical Collections, 1754, vol 1, 315
‘Scotland has since the Reformation sent more saints to heaven than any country in Europe of the same population.’
DAVID BOGUE Discourses on the Millennium, 1818, 362
THE spiritual prosperity which accompanied the Puritan movement in England was paralleled by the revivals which occurred north of the Border during the same period. Here also the instrument was a powerful ministry stemming from colleges under the influence of faithful teachers of the Word. Andrew Melville, fresh from Geneva and twenty-nine years of age, led the way by reorganizing the moribund University of Glasgow in the years 1574—1580.
In 1583 Robert Rollock was appointed the first Principal of the Town’s College of Edinburgh, and under his leadership the college soon began to supply the churches with men well qualified for the gospel ministry. Rollock was a forceful teacher and not afraid to see some emotion in his classes. He would pray with his students daily, says an old writer, and once a week expound some passage of Scripture to them, ‘in the close of which he was frequently very warm in his exhortations; which wrought more reformation upon the students than all the laws which were made, or the discipline which was exercised’.’ Besides his college work, we read that ‘he preached every Lord’s day in the church, with such fervency and evident demonstration of the Spirit, that he was the instrument of converting many to God’.’ Robert Boyd was one student who, as he tells us, first began ‘to learn Christ’ under that ‘happy and glorious soul’, Robert Rollock. Others who were under him at this memorable period include John Welch and Edward Brice — both greatly used in later revivals — and Charles Ferme and David Chalderwood, best remembered for their books. Ferme became a regent, or professor, under Rollock in 1589, and with his Logical Analysis of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (a commentary which runs to 378 pages in the last-century reprint) he followed the practice which his mentor had commenced of preparing expository material to aid the pulpit. Rollock issued many commentaries, the worth of which was noted by J. C. Ryle when he wrote: ‘Of our old writers, Rollock, the Scotch divine, is incomparably the best. In fact, I do not know such a “buried treasure” as his Latin Commentary on St. John.’
Another factor which made Edinburgh a conspicuous centre of spiritual light at this time was the ministry of Robert Bruce, who in the late 1580’s came direct from studying under Melville at St. Andrews to John Knox’s old pulpit of St. Giles. At the very outset of his ministry there was an ‘extraordinary effusion of the Spirit when he first dispensed the Sacrament of the Supper’. Thereafter Bruce’s ministry was a constant witness to the fact that preaching does not depend upon the energy of human gifts for its success. Of this ministry Robert Fleming writes:
‘Whilst he was in the ministry at Edinburgh he shined as a great light through the whole land, the power and efficacy of the Spirit most sensibly accompanying the word he preached... his speech and his preaching was in such evidence and demonstration of the Spirit that by the shining of his face, and that shower of divine influence, wherewith the word spoken was accompanied, it was easy for the hearer to perceive that he had been in the mount with God… he preached ordinarily with such life and power, and the word spoken by him was accompanied with such a manifest presence, that it was evident to the hearers he was not alone at the work.., some of the most stout-hearted of his hearers were ordinarily made to tremble, and, by having these doors which formerly had been bolted against Jesus Christ, as by an irresistible power broke open, and the secrets of their hearts made manifest, they went away under convictions and carrying with them undeniable proof of Christ speaking in him.’
The freedom which the students of Bruce and Rollock enjoyed did not last long. By the 1590’s the conflict between King James and the Church was apparent, and the royal policy aimed at fettering the presbyterian system by the introduction of ‘commissioners’ (alias a new episcopacy) who would be a dependent upon the King’s favour as were the bishops south of the Border. The last free General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the sixteenth century met at Edinburgh in I596 and thereafter all such gatherings were either packed and bribed, or simply put down and forbidden, until the famous Assembly which met in Glasgow in 1638. Many set-backs were endured in these forty years. Rollock died in his forty-third year; it speaks much for the faithfulness of the men whom he trained that they were soon proved ready to endure so much. Robert Boyd departed an unwilling exile to France in 1597; John Welch, protesting against the silencing of Bruce in 1605 was himself imprisoned and banished for life in 1606. Charles Ferme was confined for some years, as also was David Calderwood. Andrew Melville was summoned to London in 1605 and, after four years in the Tower, was banished to France, where he died in 1622.
The list of sufferers could be greatly extended; yet the fact is that it was in this same period that the gospel spread far and wide in Scotland, constantly registering new successes until loyalty to the faith of the Reformation became characteristic of a great part of the land. The one explanation for this is that the Holy Spirit in revival power was sovereignly dissipating the darkness and building a Church whose testimony was to be a beacon for succeeding centuries. Often the old records give us no more than a glimpse of what occurred, but what they tell us is enough to make us understand why, despite the persecution, it was an age of great spiritual prosperity.
We hear, for example, of John Davidson preaching to fellow ministers at the General Assembly of 1596 on the need for repentance: ‘In this he was so assisted by the Spirit working upon their hearts, that within an hour after they had convened, they began to look with another countenance than at first, and while he was exhorting them to these duties, the whole meeting was in tears, whereby that place might have justly been called Bochim.’ Commenting upon this day’s work in St. Giles, which had repercussions throughout the land, the modern biographer of Bruce writes: ‘Unquestionably there was a profound religious revival afoot, and behind the strivings of parties there was operative a great spiritual work such as cannot be recorded in the bald narrative of history.’
Similarly we read of a great revival under John Welch’s preaching in the south-west, in Kirkcudbright and at Ayr, before his banishment. When Samuel Rutherford settled in the same area, at Anwoth, in 1627, the results of the spiritual harvest in the time of Welch were in plentiful evidence. Rutherford refers to the former pastor of Kirkcudbright as ‘that Apostolicke, heavenly, and Propheticall man of God’ and reports, ‘from the godly witnesses of his life I have heard say, of every twenty four hours, he gave eight to prayer, except when the public necessities of his calling did call him to preach, visit, I exhort in season and out of season.’
Even more remarkable was the effect which followed Bruce’s ministry in Inverness, in the wild and Catholic Highlands, when he was banished there for the second time in 1622. No great results appear to have marked his first stay there from 1605 to 1613, but during the second period in the northern capital a new day of blessing dawned in the North. Bruce sensed it even as he made the difficult and weary ride for the second time. On one of the last stages of the journey he stood so long, rapt in meditation, beside his horse one morning before mounting that his companion later asked him the reason for the delay. Bruce replied, ‘I was receiving my commission from my Master to go to Inverness, and He gave it me Himself before I set my foot in the stirrup, and thither I go to sow a seed in Inverness that shall not be rooted out for many ages.’ More than two centuries later Christians in the Highlands still spoke of the days when multitudes walked and took ferries from the counties of Ross and Sutherland to hear Bruce preach in Inverness. Speaking of Bruce’s ministry in general, his contemporary, David Calderwood, says he ‘gained to Christ many thousands of souls’. Kirkton mentions one instance: ‘A poor Highlander, hearing him, came to him after sermon and offered him his whole substance (which was only two cows) upon condition Mr. Bruce would make God his friend.’ This was the first of the many revivals which were to make north-east Scotland one oft the most Christian areas of the world.
Among others converted under Bruce was Alexander Henderson, when he was minister of Leuchars; he later took a leading part at the Westminster Assembly.
With the suppression of the General Assembly, the universities and colleges passed entirely under royal control, and the banishment of those best able to influence students was cleverly designed to prevent the training of such men as Edinburgh had produced in the late sixteenth century. But in 1614 King James misjudged his man when he appointed thirty-six-year-old Robert Boyd to be Principal and Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow. Boyd, as noted earlier, was a pupil of Rollock. He was of noble family, reserved, polished and a brilliant scholar. Having been long absent in France, and therefore uninvolved in the developing conflict between presbytery and episcopacy in Scotland James evidently judged that the man’s mildness and his dependence on the royal favour for his office would make him sufficiently pliable. It was one of the many mistakes which King James made, for within a few years the royal party in Scotland was complaining that Boyd had joined the ‘Puritans’.
In 1621 Boyd was compelled to lay down his post, but not before he had left his impress on a series of younger men whose calibre was not a whit less than those who trained under Rollock. One of these men was Robert Blair. Blair had recently been made a Master of Arts when Boyd took office at Glasgow, and in his Autobiography he tells us of the memorable first address which the new Principal gave. What moved him to take up this work, Boyd asked his hearers to consider, ‘seeing he was a gentleman of a considerable estate, whereupon he might live competently enough?’ ‘His answer’, writes Blair, ‘was, that considering the great wrath under the which he lay naturally, and the great salvation purchased to him by Jesus Christ, he had resolved to spend himself to the utmost, giving all diligence to glorify that Lord who had so loved him. I thought within myself, There is a man of God, there is one of a thousand Boyd’s great love was practical divinity and the study of matters pertaining to the conscience. He would take his pupils through such themes as the Christian’s conflicts with the Devil, and when they came to him to speak of their own spiritual experience he was a wise counsellor. Another of his students was John Livingstone, who says how Boyd was ‘one of an austere-like carriage, but of a most tender heart.... I always found him soe kind and familiar as made me wonder.’ Robert Baillie, one of the five Scots ministers appointed to the Westminster Assembly in 1643, was also at Glasgow under Boyd, and thirty years after his student days were over he spoke of the spirit of repentance and of joy sometimes stirred within them as their master prayed. For Baillie, who himself became Principal at Glasgow in brighter days, Boyd was among the most eminent of the Reformed Divines.
One more future leader who as a regent, or professor, in the university was associated with Boyd was David Dickson. It is to Dickson that the English-speaking world owes the conception of a whole series of commentaries which for many years served to make the study of the Bible a common household employment. Boyd produced a Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians of stupendous size; as James Walker writes, this ‘led to the calamitous result of a great divine being buried under his own erudition’. The series of popular volumes which Dickson envisaged avoided this pitfall as the subsequent reprinting of a number of them has proved. To the series Dickson contributed expositions of Hebrews, 1635, Matthew, 1647, and Psalms, 1653—1654. George Hutcheson followed with rich folios on The Minor Prophets, 1653—1655, John, 1657, and Job, 1669. James Fergusson, ‘after the pattern held forth by those reverend brethren, Mr. David Dickson and Mr. George Hutcheson’, added his Brief Exposition of the Epistles of Paul (Galatians to Thessalonians), and Alexander Nisbet supplied A Brief Exposition of the First and Second Epistles General of Peter. The manuscript of Samuel Rutherford’s work on Isaiah was lost and never printed. James Durham’s volumes on The Song of Solomon, Revelation, and Job, were not designed as part of the same series, being published posthumously, as was the fine work of John Brown of Wamphray on Romans. ‘Nor are Dickson and his fellow-interpreters to be despised,’ writes James Walker. ‘They want the scholarship of the present day, though they were scholars. But though they want our scholarship, they were, more than our equals in theology.’ C. H. Spurgeon reached a similar verdict in his Commenting and Commentaries.
In his own day, however, Dickson was best known as a preacher and few were granted more success. Giving up his professorship at Glasgow in 1618, he became minister of Irvine in Ayrshire. Soon persecution was again on the increase and he was deprived of his charge and banished to the Highlands in 1622. Yet the mood of Dickson and his brethren was one of great confidence. At a prayer meeting held near Edinburgh in 1621 such enlargement of heart was given as petitions were presented to God that the ministers separated from each other with the assurance ‘that yet hereafter the work of God would flourish in the land more than formerly’. Dickson himself prayed for two hours that day, so John Livingstone tells us, and in a manner which convinced all present that God was hearing the pleas for ‘the present sad case of the Church’. In 1623, through the intervention of the Earl of Eglinton, Dickson was permitted to return to Irvine, and about the same time a great revival commenced. Robert Fleming reports it in these words:
‘I must here instance a very solemn and extraordinary outletting of the Spirit, which about the year 1625, and thereafter was in the west of Scotland, whilst the persecution of the church there was hot from the prelatic party; this by the profane rabble of that time was called the Stewarton-sickness, for in that parish first, but after through much of that country, particularly at Irvine, under the ministry of famous Mr. Dickson, it was most remarkable, where it can be said (which divers ministers and Christians yet alive can witness) that for a considerable time, few sabbaths did pass without some evidently converted, and some convincing proofs of the power of God accompanying his Word; yea, that many were so choaked and taken by the heart, that through terror the Spirit in such a measure convincing them of sin, in hearing of the Word they have been made to fall over and thus carried out the church, who after proved most solid and lively Christians.... Truly, this great spring-tide, which I may so call of the gospel, was not of a short time, but for some years’ continuance, yea, thus like a spreading moor-burn the power of godliness did advance from one place to another, which put a marvellous lustre on these parts of the country, the savour whereof brought many from other parts of the land to see the truth of the same.”
Such was the hunger to hear the Word of God preached in these times that week-day services became common. Dickson, for instance, held a service on Monday mornings before the opening of the market which on that day drew many from the surrounding area to Irvine. For this market-day sermon, it is said, the church was even more crowded than on the Lord’s Day. About the same time, on Monday, June 21, 1630, to be precise, a service was held at Shotts, a parish midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was at the conclusion of a week-end of communion services at which seventy-five-year-old Robert Bruce and others had been ministering the Word. By the Sunday evening, such was the sense of the presence of God that many were unwilling to go away, and thus, after a night spent by a number in prayer, a further service was held in the morning. The preacher was young John Livingstone and the occasion he later remembered as ‘the one day in all my life wherein I got most presence of God in public’. Thirty years after that communion Robert Fleming recalled the results of those four days at the Kirk of Shotts. A ‘down-pouring of the Spirit’, he says, accompanied the ordinances, ‘especially that sermon on the Monday, the 21st of June, that it was known, which I can speak on sure ground, near five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterward: it was the sowing of a seed through Clydsdale, so as many of most eminent Christians in that country could date either their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation in their case from that day’.
Equally memorable was the work now done in the plantation of Ulster which became a haven for both English and Scots ministers of Puritan conviction. In the 1620’s several such men who had settled in Ireland began to work together with much unity and affection. In 1623 Robert Blair arrived, newly dismissed from his professorship at Glasgow, and he in turn encouraged another of Boyd’s former regents, Josias Welch, to come over to Ireland. This was the son of John Welch and as Blair noted, ‘A great measure of that spirit which wrought in and by the father rested on the son’. They were joined in the late summer of 1630 by John Livingstone.
The moral state of Ireland had been hitherto deplorable. Atheism and sin abounded and the ministry of a large part of the clergy was not only ineffectual but worse than nothing. As in Jeremiah’s day, ‘from the prophets of Israel profaneness went forth into all the land’. Livingstone was not the only newcomer to be dismayed at the ignorance of the people, and on his settlement in the parish of Killinshie, he said, ‘I saw no appearance of doing any good among them.’ Yet to a population so generally sunk in carelessness the power of divine grace was now manifested. The first ministry to be attended with evidence that an awakening was at hand was that of the eccentric James Glendinning of Carrickfergus. Blair, recognizing this man’s limitations, advised him to seek a less exacting charge. He also urged upon him the duty of dealing more plainly and directly with the consciences of his hearers and advised him to seek to awaken them by the searching style of preaching which had been so largely blessed in Scotland. This counsel brought a turning point in Glendinning’s ministry; he moved to Oldstone, near the town of Antrim, and, amidst a people characterized by their licence and indifference, he preached the law of God and the terror of the divine wrath. Glendinning’s limitations were now unnoticed by a people who could only think of the message they heard. Andrew Stewart, a contemporary who witnessed what happened at Oldstone, later wrote with amazement of the change which was wrought:
‘Behold the success! For the hearers finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in His Word, fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned; and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved? I have seen them myself stricken into a swoon with the Word; yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead, so marvellous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin condemning and killing. And of these were none of the weaker sex or spirit, but indeed some of the boldest spirits, who formerly fear not to put a whole market-town in a fray; yet in defence of their stubbornness cared not to lie in prison and in the stocks, and being incorrigible, were as ready to do the like the next day.”
This revival, which commenced about the year 1626, was known after the name of the nearby river, the Six-Mile Water, which flows through the towns of Ballynure, Ballyclare and Templepatrick. Soon, however, the work spread far beyond the locality in which it commenced. In the reaping-time which followed, Robert Blair, Robert Cunningham, James Hamilton, the elderly Edward Brice — whom we noted at Edinburgh in Rollock’s day — Josias Welch, and several others, were all engaged. At the suggestion of John Ridge, an English minister of Antrim of the Puritan school, a meeting was held at Antrim on the first Friday of each month and to this all the ministers engaged in the awakening came for prayer and conference.’ On these Fridays a great congregation would gather and generally two ministers would preach in the morning and two in the afternoon. Speaking of this gathering, Livingstone writes:
‘We used to come together on the Thursday night before, and stayed the Friday night after, and consult about such things as concerned the carrying on the work of God, and these meetings among ourselves were sometimes as profitable as either presbytries or synods.’ Some of Robert Blair’s words are worthy of quotation, particularly as he had so much of the leadership of the work:
‘This monthly meeting thus beginning, continued many years, and was a great help to spread religion through that whole country.’ After naming nobility and ministers who gave their aid, he continues: ‘So mightily grew the Word of God, and his gracious work prospered in the hands of his faithful servants. ... There were many converts in all our congregations. That blessed work of conversion was now spread beyond the bounds of Down and Antrim, to the skirts of neighbouring counties, whence many came to the monthly meetings, and the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. The Lord was pleased to bless his Word, the people had a vehement appetite for it that could not be satisfied: they hung upon the ministers, still desirous to have more; no day was long enough, no room large enough.’
John Livingstone tells us this about the spirit of those days:
‘Among all these ministers there was never any jar or jealousie, yea, nor among the professors, the greatest part of them being Scots, and some good number of gracious English, all whose contention was to prefer others to themselves; and although the gifts of the ministers was much different, yet it was not observed that the hearers followed any to the undervaluing of others. Many of those religious professors had been both ignorant and prophane, and for debt and want, and worse causes, had left Scotland, yet the Lord was pleased by his Word to work such change. I doe not think there were more lively and experienced Christians any where than were these at that time in Ireland, and that in good numbers, and many of them persons of an good outward condition in the world. Being but lately brought in, the lively edge was not yet gone off them, and the perpetual fear that the bishops would put away their ministers, made them with great hunger wait on the ordinances. I have known them that have come several myles from their own houses to communions, to the Saturday sermon, and spent the whole Saturday night in several companies, sometimes an minister being with them, sometimes themselves alone in conference and prayer, and waited on the publick ordinances the whole Sabbath, and spent the Sabbath night likewise. . . . In these dayes it was no great difficultie for ane minister to preach or pray in publick or private, such was the hunger of the hearers; and it was hard to judge whether there was more of the Lord’s presence in the publick or private meetings.’
‘That solemn and great work of God, which was in the church of Ireland,’ says Fleming, ‘was a bright and hot sun-blink of the gospel; yea, may with sobriety be said to have been one of the largest manifestations of the Spirit, and of the most solemn times of the down-pouring thereof that almost since the days of the apostles hath been seen, where the power of God did sensibly accompany the Word with an unusual motion upon the hearers, and a very great tack, ( Footnote: A Scots word for a draught of fishes,) as to the conversion of souls to Christ. . . . I remember amongst other passages what a worthy Christian told me, how sometimes in hearing the Word, such a power and evidence of the Lord’s presence was with it, that he hath been forced to rise and look through the church and see what the people were doing, thinking from what he felt on his own spirit, it was a wonder how any could go away without some change upon them.’
This day of exceptional visitation passed away in the 1630’s. Some of the ministers were called home by death. Josias Welch died in 1634, his friends Blair and Livingstone being present on that triumphant day in June when he passed over. The son of John Welch ‘clapped both his hands, and cryed out, “Victory! Victory! Victory for evermore!” and within a short while thereafter he expired’. Another who departed about this time was Edward Brice, who ‘in all his preaching insisted most on the life of Christ in the heart’. He died in 1636, having been in Ireland since 1613. The remainder of the evangelical leaders were silenced by the episcopal opposition which was at its height in these days when Archbishop Laud hounded many Puritan ministers out of their pulpits. Robert Blair, for instance, was excommunicated by the Bishop of Down in 1634. After the sentence was pronounced, Blair rose and cited the bishop to appear before the tribunal of Jesus Christ to answer for his deed. Upon this the bishop expressed his confidence that he would be able to appeal to the mercy of God, only to be told by the persecuted minister, ‘Your appeal is like to be rejected because you act against the light of your own conscience.’ (Fottnote: Shortly after this the bishop fell seriously ill. When his physician, Dr. Maxwell, came to enquire what was wrong, ‘he was long silent, and with great difficulty uttered these words, “It is my conscience, man”. To which the doctor replied, “I have no cure for that”.’)
Notwithstanding the comparative shortness of this ‘sun-blink’ in Ulster, and despite the terrible massacre which occurred in 1641, claiming the lives of some forty thousand Protestants, J. S. Reid could write of this time in his History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, published in 1833: ‘The Gospel shot forth its branches in Ulster with wonderful rapidity, till, like the grain of mustard, from being the least of all seeds, it became a great and noble tree, which after the lapse of two centuries and the beating of many bitter storms, stands, at the present day, more firm and vigorous than ever.’ Meanwhile in Scotland Bruce had died in 1631. Shortly before his death there had been one of those prayer meetings, in his home, which were so characteristic of the period, and from which much spiritual energy and confidence was derived. The aged Bruce prayed ‘with such an extraordinary motion upon the hearts of all present, and so sensible an outpouring of the Spirit, as scarce any present were able to contain themselves’.
In the years which immediately followed, the episcopal party made a last desperate attempt to stem the rising tide of allegiance to the evangelical faith. Robert Blair and his associates, Livingstone, Cunningham and Ridge, were harried out of Ireland by persecution, only to find a similar situation prevailing in Scotland. We are not surprised to learn that it was David Dickson and the people of Irvine who at risk to themselves sheltered these fugitives. The work of the two older men, Cunningham, the Scot, and Ridge, the Englishman, was done, and here at Irvine they died in peace. They had already proved in this world what Rutherford anticipated of heaven, ‘When we come up to our father’s house the higher Jerusalem, I trust we shall not stand in a vicinity to, or a distance from his face who sits on the throne and the Lamb, as English and Scottish’. Blair and Livingstone survived the storm and were leaders of the Scottish Church in the new age which was at hand.
It is against this background that the great political events of the late 1630’s in Scotland are to be understood — the rejection of Laud’s liturgy, the rallying of the people to sign the National Covenant, the abolition of Episcopacy at the General Assembly of 1638, leading in turn to the two Bishops’ Wars, so called because of Charles I’s intervention to support his falling party in Scotland. The story of the events between 1638 and 1660, with the Civil Wars, the Solemn League and Covenant uniting the Puritans in England and Scotland, the Westminster Assembly, and the work of Cromwell, has often been told. But with all the political confusion of that period it is often forgotten that for the churches these were years of peace and of much prosperity. The seed sown in tears was indeed reaped with joy. James Kirkton’s words on the spiritual state of Scotland before the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 are a fitting testimony with which to close this sketch of a great revival period:
‘At the king’s return every parish had a minister, every village had a school, every family almost had a Bible. . . . Every minister was a very full professor of the reformed religion, according to the large confession of faith framed at Westminster by the divines of both nations. Every minister was obliged to preach thrice a week, to lecture and catechise once, besides other private duties wherein they abounded, according to their proportion of faithfulness and abilities. None of them might be scandalous in their conversation, or negligent in their office, so long as a presbytrie stood; and among them were many holy in conversation and eminent in gifts... nor did a minister satisfy himself except his ministry had the seal of a divine approbation, as might witness him to be really sent from God. Indeed, in many places the spirit seemed to be poured out with the Word, both by the multitude of sincere converts, and also by the common work of reformation upon many who never came the length of a communion.... I have lived many years in a parish where I never heard an oath, and you might have ridden many miles before you heard any: Also, you could not for a great part of the country have lodged in a family where the Lord was not worshipped by reading, singing and publick prayer. No body complained more of our church government than our taverners, whose ordinary lamentation was, their trade was broke, people were become so sober.’
‘That God in his appointed time will bring forth the kingdom of the Lord Christ unto more glory and power than in former days, I presume you are persuaded. Whatever will be more, these six things are clearly promised:
1. Fulness of peace unto the gospel and the professors thereof, Isa. 11.6, 7, 54.13, 33.20, 2I Rev. 21.15.
2. Purity and beauty of ordinances and gospel worship, Rev. 11.2, 21.3. The tabernacle was wholly made by appointment, Mal. 3.3, 4; Zech. 14.16; Rev. 21.27; Zech. 14.20; Isa. 35.8.
3. Multitudes of converts, many persons, yea, nations, Isa. 60.7, 8, 66.8, 49.18—22; Rev. 7.9.
4. The full casting out and rejecting of all will-worship, and their attendant abominations, Rev. 11.2.
5. Professed subjection of the nations throughout the whole world unto the Lord Christ, Dan. 2.44, 7.26, 27; Isa. 60.6-9; — the kingdoms become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ (Rev. I I .I 5), amongst whom his appearance shall be so glorious, that David himself shall be said to reign.
6. A most glorious and dreadful breaking of all that rise in opposition unto him, Isa. 60. 12 — never such desolations, Rev. 16.17—19.’
JOHN OWEN ‘The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World’, A sermon to the Commons assembled in Parliament, 1651 (Works, vol 8, 334)
IN the turmoil of ideas which accompanied the Reformation of the sixteenth century it was inevitable that the question of unfulfilled prophecy should be reopened. The restoration of the Bible in pulpits and homes was in itself enough to make this certain. For long years the evangelical meaning of the Second Advent of Christ, and truths concerning the last things in general, had lain out of sight with the removal of the Scriptures from the common people. The future, both with respect to history and to eternity was a dark unknown. Purgatory cast its shadow upon life from the cradle to the grave. Anti-Christ remained unidentified, except in the convictions of some few Lollards or Waldensians. The Jews, despised and downtrodden, heard no word of hope from the professing Church, and the unevangelized world lying beyond the narrow borders of Christendom received no messengers of the gospel of peace.
None of these things could last once the Scriptures were uncovered. Prophecy was again examined and the onset of persecution caused believers to dwell all the more upon the prospects which that subject brought before them. Not without reason did John Knox describe the Christians of England, suffering in the reign of Mary Tudor, as those ‘that love the Coming of our Lord’. And yet it must at once be said that the Reformation period, save for restoring the certain hope of Christ’s Second Coming, did not establish for Protestantism a commonly accepted view of the unfulfilled prophecies which are to precede that coming. No unanimity was arrived at here as it was in many other areas of biblical truth. Luther, for example, regarded himself as living at the very close of history, with the Advent and Judgment immediately at hand. Others, on the outer fringe of orthodox Protestantism, ‘drew out of its grave’ (as a Puritan later complained against them) the belief common among some of the early Fathers, that Christ would appear and reign with his saints a thousand years in Jerusalem before the Judgment. From their emphasis on the word ‘thousand’ (Greek, chilias; Latin, mule), taken from Revelation, chapter 20, they were anciently called ‘chiliasts’ or ‘millenaries’. Calvin deemed this view ‘too puerile to need or to deserve refutation’. He has in turn been accused in more modern times of failing to animate his fellow-Christians by preaching and instruction to await patiently and in faith the establishment of the kingly rule that Jesus had promised in connexion with His Parousia’. This charge is true in so far as Calvin believed that Christ’s kingdom is already established, and, unlike Luther, he expected it to have a yet greater triumph in history prior to the consummation but it is false if it is understood to mean that Calvin did not proclaim the joyful expectation of Christ’s return. The latter he most certainly did, as one characteristic statement of the reformer’s is enough to show. Preaching in the great cathedral of St. Peter’s, Geneva, from the text, ‘The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day’ (2 Tim. 1. 18), he dwells on the words ‘in that day’:
‘Let us learn to stretch out our hope, even to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For if this hope do not reign in our hearts and sit as mistress there, we shall faint every minute of an hour. Will we therefore walk equally in God’s service? Before all things let us learn to fasten our eyes and stay them upon this last day, and upon this coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and know we that then there is a crown prepared for us, and let it not grieve us to be in great distress in the mean season, and to have many discommodities, to lead a painful and troublesome life, let us pass over all this, casting our eyes always upon this latter day, whereunto God calleth us, and indeed we see how Saint Paul speaks, In that day, saith he. No Christian man can read this text, but he must needs be touched to the quick. For we see that St. Paul was as it were ravished, when he spake of this coming of Jesus Christ and of the last resurrection. . . . Saint Paul, I say, spake not of these things coldly, nor according to man, but he was lifted up above all the world, that he might cry out, That day, That day!’
This central hope, then, the Reformers clearly asserted. It was in regard to other subjects bearing on unfulfilled prophecy that they left no united testimony. Several of these subjects received little attention from the first generation of Reformers and, with one exception, they were left for their successors to take up. The exception was the unanimous belief that the Papal system is both the ‘man of sin’ and the Babylonian whore of which Scripture forewarns (2 Thess. Rev. 19).” In the conviction of sixteenth-century Protestants Rome was the great Anti-Christ, and so firmly did this belief become established that it was not until the nineteenth century that it was seriously questioned by evangelicals.
One of the first developments in thought on prophecy came as further attention was given to the Scriptures bearing on the future of the Jews. Neither Luther nor Calvin saw a future general conversion of the Jews promised in Scripture; some of their contemporaries, however, notably Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr, who taught at Cambridge and Oxford respectively in the reign of Edward VI, did understand the Bible to teach a future calling of the Jews. In this view they were followed by Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva. As early as 1560 four years before Calvin’s death, the English and Scots refugee Protestant leaders who produced the Geneva Bible, express this belief in their marginal notes on Romans chapter 11, verses 15 and 26. On the latter verse they comment, ‘He sheweth that the time shall come that the whole. nation of the Jews, though not every one particularly, shall be joined to the church of Christ.’ .
The first volume in English to expound this conviction at some length was the translation of Peter Martyr’s Commentary upon Romans, published in London in 1568.The probability is strong that Martyr’s careful exposition of the eleventh chapter prepared the way for a general adoption amongst the English Puritans of a belief in the future conversion of the Jews. Closely linked as English Puritanism was to John Calvin it was the view contained in Martyr’s commentary which was received by the rising generation of students at Cambridge.
Among those students was Hugh Broughton (1549-1612) who had the distinction of being the first Englishman to propose going as a missionary to the Jews in the Near East, and also the first to propose the idea of translating the New Testament into Hebrew for the sake of the Jews. Broughton’s ardour for the conversion of the Jews found no sympathy, however, with the English bishops whom he had early offended by his Puritan leanings. Though given no preferment in the English Church he was so well known in the East on account of his learning that the Chief Rabbi of Constantinople wrote to him in 1599 and subsequently invited him to become a public teacher there! This early possibility of a mission to the Jews was thwarted by the Church authorities, but Broughton’s writings — of which the best known was probably his Commentary on Daniel, 1596 —stimulated further study of the whole question.
Broughton was too much an individualist ever to become a leader of the Puritan movement. Two years before he was ejected from his fellowship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1579, William Perkins had entered the same college, a man whom we noted earlier as doing so much to influence the thinking of many who were to preach all over England. Perkins speaks plainly of a future conversion of the Jews: ‘The Lord saith, All the nations shall be blessed in Abraham: Hence I gather that the nation of the Jews shall be called, and converted to the participation of this blessing: when, and how, God knows: but that it shall be done before the end of the world we know.’ The same truth was opened by the succession of Puritan leaders at Cambridge who followed Perkins, including Richard Sibbes and Thomas Goodwin. In his famous book, The Bruised Reed, mentioned earlier in connection with Baxter’s conversion, Sibbes writes:
‘The Jews are not yet come in under Christ’s banner; but God, that hath persuaded Japhet to come into the tents of Shem, will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japhet, Gen. 9.27. The “fulness of the Gentiles is not yet come in”, Rom. 11.25, but Christ, that hath the “utmost parts of the earth given him for his possession”, Psa. 2.8, will gather all the sheep his Father hath given him into one fold, that there may be one sheepfold and one shepherd, John 10. 16.
‘The faithful Jews rejoiced to think of the calling of the Gentiles; and why should not we joy to think of the calling of the Jews?’
This note of joy is significant. It had already been struck by Peter Martyr. If a widespread conversion of the Jews was yet to occur in the earth then the horizons of history were not, as Luther feared, wholly dark. Maintaining the truth that the great day for the Church would be the day of Christ’s appearing at the end of time, Sibbes nevertheless saw warrant for expecting what he calls ‘lesser days before that great day’. He continues:
‘As at the first coming of Christ, so at the overthrow of Anti-Christ, the conversion of the Jews, there will be much joy.... These days make way for that day. Whensoever prophecies shall end in performances, then shall be a day of joying and glorying in the God of our salvation for ever. And therefore in the Revelation where this Scripture is cited, Rev. 21.4, is meant the conversion of the Jews, and the glorious estate they shall enjoy before the end of the world. “We have waited for our God,” and now we enjoy him. Aye, but what saith the church there? “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” There is yet another, “Come, Lord”, till we be in heaven.’
From the first quarter of the seventeenth century, belief in a future conversion of the Jews became commonplace among the English Puritans. In the late 1630’s, and in the national upheavals of the 1640’s — the period of the Civil Wars — the subject not infrequently was mentioned by Puritan leaders.
As a ground for hopefulness in regard to the prospects of Christ’s kingdom it was introduced in sermons before Parliament or on other public occasions by William Strong, William Bridge, George Gillespie and Robert Baillie, to name but a few. The fact that the two last-named were commissioners from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at the Westminster Assembly, which was convened by the English Parliament in 1643, is indicative of the agreement on this point between English and Scottish divines. Some of the rich doctrinal formularies which that Assembly produced, bear the same witness. The Larger Catechism, after the question, ‘What do we pray for in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer?’ (Thy Kingdom come), answers: ‘We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in ... that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming.’ The Directory for the Public Worship of God (section on Public Prayer before Sermon) stipulates in similar language that prayer be made ‘for the conversion of the Jews’.
This same belief concerning the future of the Jews is to be found very widely in seventeenth-century Puritan literature. It appears in the works of such well-known Puritans as John Owen, Thomas Manton and John Flavel, though the indices of nineteenth-century reprints of their works do not always indicate this. It is also handled in a rich array of commentaries, both folios and quartos — David Dickson on the Psalms, George Hutcheson on the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea, William Greenhill on Ezekiel, Elnathan Parr on Romans and James Durham on Revelation: a list which could be greatly extended.
Occasionally the subject became the main theme of a volume. Perhaps the first in order among these was The Calling of the Jews, published in 1621 by William Gouge, the eminent Puritan minister of Blackfriars, London; the author was a barrister, Sir Henry Finch. A slender work, Some Discourses upon the Point of the Conversion of the Jews, by Moses Wall, appeared in 1650, and nineteen years later Increase Mather, the New England divine of Boston, issued his work, The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation Explained and Applied. ‘That there shall be a general conversion of the Tribes of Israel is a truth which in some measure hath been known and believed in all ages of the Church of God, since the Apostles’ days….. Only in these late days, these things have obtained credit much more universally than heretofore.’ So Mather wrote in 1669.
By this latter date, however, divergencies of view had also become established within Puritan thought on prophecy, and to these we must now turn. They centre around those scriptural prophecies which appear to speak of a general conversion of the nations. The first expositors of a future conversion of Israel, Peter Martyr and William Perkins for instance, had placed that event very close to the end of time. Martyr interpreted the word ‘fulness’ in Paul’s statement, ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in’ (Rom. 11.25) to mean that Christ’s kingdom among the Gentiles will have reached its fullest development, indeed its consummation, by the time that Israel is called. By the conversion of the Jews, he says, the churches will ‘be stirred and confirmed’, but the thought that thereafter many more Gentiles will be converted is not possible, Martyr argues, for ‘it is said, that the Jews shall then be saved and enter in, when the fulness of the Gentiles hath entered in. And if the calling of the Gentiles shall be complete, what other Gentiles shall there be remaining to be by the conversion of the Jews brought unto Christ?’
Thomas Brightman (1562—1607) seems to have been one of the first divines of the Puritan school to reject the argument that the Jews’ conversion must be placed at the very end of history. Brightman was a contemporary of Perkins at Cambridge and a fellow of Queens’ College before his appointment to the living of Hawnes, Bedfordshire, in 1592. With his Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, A Revelation of the Apocalypse (first published in Latin in the year of his death and later in English) he stands at the head of the long line of subsequent English commentators on that book. For Brightman the Revelation gives a chronological outline of church history: events up to the 14th chapter he considered were already fulfilled; the 15th commences to deal with things yet to come; while the 20th gives a summary in which ‘the whole history is repeated’. In the course of this exposition the Elizabethan Puritan gives considerable attention to the future prospects of the Jews: ‘I have set down these things with more store of words, because I would give our Divines an occasion of thinking more seriously of these things.’
Brightman’s work confirmed the view that the Jews would be called, but in addition it brought forward considerations concerning the time of their conversion which tended to show that the matter was not so conclusively settled as Martyr had considered. Though there would be a certain fulness of the Gentiles made up before the salvation of Israel, this does not necessitate the belief that no more Gentiles can be added; Paul himself Brightman argues, implies the contrary in verse 15 of Romans 11.15 The Jews’ calling, he believed, would be part of a new and brighter era of history, and not the end.
In the earliest and most popular Puritan exposition of Romans, the Plain Exposition of Elnathan Parr, published in 1620, it is interesting to note a development in the same direction. Parr was educated at Eton, graduated B.A. at Cambridge in 1597 and exercised a powerful ministry at Palgrave, Suffolk, dying about the year 1632. In handling chapter eleven he is in major agreement with Martyr and refers to his work. But over the prospects for the world at the time of Israel’s future calling he does not accept the Continental divine’s interpretation that the ‘fulness of the Gentiles’, preceding the Jews’ call, means that God’s saving work among the Gentiles will then be complete:
‘The casting off of the Jews, was our Calling; but the Calling of the Jews shall not be our casting off, but our greater enriching grace, and that two ways: First, in regard of the company of believers, when the thousands of Israel shall come in, which shall doubtless cause many Gentiles which now lie in ignorance, error and doubt, to receive the Gospel and join with them. The world shall then be a golden world, rich in golden men, saith Ambrose. Secondly, in respect of the graces, which shall then in more abundance be rained down upon the Church.” In 1627, seven years after Parr’s commentary appeared, further impetus was given to the expectation of world-wide blessing connected with the calling of the Jews, by the appearance of a Latin work by John Henry Alsted, The Beloved City. Alsted poses his main question in these words, ‘Whether there shall be any happiness of the Church here upon earth before the last day; and of what kind it shall be?’ From a consideration of some sixty-six places in the Scriptures he resolves this question in the affirmative and gives the following outline of the Church’s history during the course of the Christian era:
1.From Christ’s birth to the Council of Jerusalem, A.D. 50.
2.The second period is of the Church spread over the whole world and contains the calling and conversion of most nations.
3.From the beginning of the thousand years to the end thereof and it shall contain, as well as the martyrs that shall then rise, the nations not yet converted, and the Jews; and it shall be free from persecutions.
4.From the end of the thousand years to the last judgment. In which the estate of the Church shall be very miserable…..
It will be seen immediately that Alsted identifies the period of the Church’s highest development on earth, when the Jews will be called, with the millennium of Revelation 20. The most prevalent view hitherto was that the thousand years’ reign of Christ was his spiritual rule over the Church in this world —a symbolic picture of the whole period between Christ’s first and second advents. According to this traditional view, Christians of every generation share in Christ’s spiritual reign; they have ‘part in the first resurrection’ (Rev. 20.5), that is to say, they are people who have been quickened in regeneration. This spiritualization of the word ‘resurrection’ is not without support from other Scriptures. For instance, Christ, speaking of the present gospel era, says, ‘The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live’ (John 5.25).
This interpretation, popularized by Augustine, was now being challenged. In Alsted’s view the thousand years was literal not simply a symbolic figure — and the resurrection to mark its commencement was likewise to be literal. This new position on Revelation 20 soon gained influence in England, particularly through the writings of Joseph Mede (1586—1638), a learned Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge. Mede, like Alsted who influenced him, argued that the millennium is a future period of time, and he went further with the suggestion that it would be ushered in by a personal appearing of Christ —a ‘pre-millennial’ coming.’
Despite the general cautiousness of these two scholars, they both encouraged the practice of date-fixing and in the general excitement of the 1640’s — the Civil War period — the question whether Christ’s coming to establish a ‘millennial kingdom’ was near at hand was agitated by men of considerably less competence than Mede and Alsted. The end product was ‘the Fifth Monarchy’ party, so called because they believed that Christ’s monarchy, succeeding the four spoken of by Daniel, was shortly to be set up, with the Jews converted and the millennium brought in. Thomas Fuller, in his Worthies of England, published in 1662 when this party was thoroughly discredited, comments pithily: ‘I dare boldly say that the furious factors for the Fifth Monarchy hath driven that nail which Master Mede did first enter, farther than he ever intended it; and doing it with such violence that they split the truths round about it. Thus, when ignorance begins to build on that foundation which learning hath laid, no wonder if there be no uniformity in such a mongrel fabric.”
* * *
We have traced in these last few pages a sequence and development of ideas which may be enumerated as follows: (1) the Jews to be converted; (2) their calling to be associated with a further expansion of the Church and therefore not to be at the end; (3) a fuller development and future prosperity of the Church to be identified with the thousand years’ peace of Revelation 20 and (4) Christ himself to inaugurate this future reign and raise his saints.
It is important now to notice that these beliefs are not so necessarily related as to stand or fall together. The majority of Puritan divines believed that the scriptural evidence was broad enough to warrant an acceptance of points one and two above. Some considered that point three was correct, but that the ‘resurrection’ to usher in the millennium was not to be taken literally; it refers, they thought, to the spiritual resurrection of the Church’s influence in the world which will then be witnessed. This identification of the Church’s time of highest development with a spiritual millennium was to command very wide support in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Protestantism. Whether right or wrong, no major difference exists between those who accepted this refinement of point three and those who only went as far as point two. Sometimes those who accepted point three, in the sense just given, have been termed ‘millenaries’ or ‘chiliasts’, but Millenarianism proper is the view represented by point four and it is here that a radical difference is involved. According to this teaching the Church’s brightest era is to differ from the present not simply in terms of degree but in kind. That is to say, it will be more than a larger measure of the spiritual blessings already given to the church; by Christ’s personal appearing and the resurrection of saints an altogether new order of things is to be established. Christ will then reign in a manner not now seen or known. To this conclusion Mede’s teaching pointed and from it Puritanism, generally, diverged.
The reason for this divergence was the unwillingness of the majority to be committed to a prophetic scheme which virtually made Revelation 20, a notoriously difficult chapter; the axis of interpretation. Thus Elnathan Parr, while speaking of the future blessing promised in Romans 11 declines to employ Revelation 20 on account of its obscurity, though he notes that some have done so. Likewise John Owen with characteristic caution writes:
‘The coming of Christ to reign here on earth a thousand years is, if not a groundless opinion, yet so dubious and uncertain as not to be admitted a place in the analogy of faith to regulate our interpretation of Scripture in places that may fairly admit of another application.’
We must therefore note that it was not upon a Millenarian basis that the Puritan movement in general believed in the conversion of the Jews and a period of world-wide blessing. The belief was already common long before the challenge of Millenarianism became noticeable in the 1640’s, and, while the two sides held common ground in that both believed there are various passages in the Old and New Testaments warranting the expectation of future blessing for the world, men of the main Puritan school were quick to assert in answer to that challenge that those scriptures needed no pre-millennial interpretation of Revelation 20 to make their sense clear. Thus Robert Baillie answers a pre-millennial writer who had appealed to Romans 11.12 (where Paul writes of the Jews, ‘If the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?) in this way:
‘There is nothing here for the point in hand: we grant willingly that the nation of the Jews shall be converted to the faith of Christ; and that the fulness of the Gentiles is to come in with them to the Christian Church; also that the quickening of that dead and rotten member, shall be a matter of exceeding joy to the whole Church. But that the converted Jews shall return to Canaan to build Jerusalem, that Christ shall come from heaven to reign among them for a thousand years, there is no such thing intimated in the Scriptures in hand.’
Thomas Hall in his pungent little book, A Confutation of the Millenarian Opinion, 1657, makes this same point in dealing with a certain Dr. Homes whose argument he summarizes and answers in the following terms:
‘Those things which are prophesied in the Word of God and are not yet come to pass, must be fulfilled, (very true.) But the great sensible and visible happiness of the Church on earth before the Ultimate Day of Judgement is prophesied in the Word of God, which is the Old and New Testament (very true,) ergo, it shall come to pass; who ever denied it? But what is this to the point in hand? Or what Logick is this? Because in the last dayes the Jews shall be called, and because the Glorious Spiritual Priviledges of the Church shall then be advanced, Ergo, Christ and the saints alone shall reign on earth a thousand years. This is the Drs Logick you see from first to last.’* * *
We are now in a position to see how this somewhat prolonged discussion of Puritan thought on prophecy relates to the subject of revival. If the calling of the Jews and a wider conversion work in the world is to occur without such cataclysmic acts as personal descent of Christ and the resurrection of saints, by what means will these blessings be brought to pass? The answer of the main Puritan school became a most important part of the heritage which they left to posterity. It was that the kingdom of Christ would spread and triumph through the powerful operations of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church in revivals. Such periods would come at the command of Christ, for new Pentecosts would show him still to be ‘both Lord and Christ’. Their whole Calvinistic theology of the gospel, with its emphasis on the power given to Christ as Mediator for the sure ingathering of the vast number of his elect, and on the person of the Holy Spirit as the One by whom the dead are quickened, dovetails in here. They rejected altogether a naturalistic view of inevitable progress in history —so common in the nineteenth century — but asserted that the sovereign purpose of God in the gospel, as indicated by the promises of Scripture yet unfulfilled, points to the sure hope of great outpourings of the Spirit in the future. It was upon such central beliefs as these that the Puritans based their expectations. John Howe, for instance, exemplifies their common attitude when he dealt with unfulfilled prophecy in a series of fifteen sermons on Ezekiel 39.29: ‘Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God.’ The series was posthumously published under the title, The Prosperous State of the Christian Interest before the End of Time by a Plentiful Effusion of the Holy Spirit. As Howe’s emphasis on the work of the Spirit is so characteristic of Puritan thought I have included a lengthy extract from these sermons at the end of this book, though it may help the reader to appreciate what follows if it is read after this present chapter.
Throughout Puritan literature, embracing authors who followed ‘the independent way’ in church government and those who were of Presbyterian convictions, and as common in Scotland as in England, there is this emphasis upon the kingdom of Christ advancing through revivals. We shall later seek to show how the transmission of this belief to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became one of the most powerful influences in the spiritual history of Britain and America.
In conclusion, it may be helpful to attempt a summary of the different views on unfulfilled prophecy which were current among the main-line Puritans:
1. A small number continued the view current among the early Reformers that the Scriptures predict no future conversion of the Jews and that the idea of a ‘golden age’ in history is without biblical foundation. The most able spokesmen for this position were Alexander Petrie and Richard Baxter.
2. A larger number appear to have held the belief of Martyr and Perkins that the conversion of the Jews would be close to the end of the world. This was probably the dominant view at least until the 1640’s.
3. The attention drawn by such writers as Mede and Alsted to the millennium of Revelation 20, and to the Old Testament prophecies which appear to speak of a general conversion of the nations, led to a revived expectation of a pre-millerinial appearing of Christ, when Israel would be converted and Christ’s kingdom established in the earth for at least a thousand years before the day of judgment. Stated in its more moderate form this belief commanded the support of some of the Westminster divines (notably, William Twisse, Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge and Jeremiah Burroughs) ; in its wilder form it became identified with the Fifth Monarchy party. In all its forms, however, its influence seems to have been short-lived in the seventeenth century, and pre-millennial belief gained no general recognition in Protestantism until its revival two years later.
The fourth group, like the second, believed in a future conversion of Israel and opposed the idea of a millennium to be introduced by Christ’s appearing and a resurrection of saints. But, like the third group, they regarded Romans 11 and portions of Old Testament prophecy as indicating a period of widespread blessing both attending and following the calling of the Jews. The Confession of the Independents, The Savoy Declaration of 1658, summarizes this in its chapter ‘Of the Church’:
‘We expect that in the later days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the Kingdom of his dear Son broken, the Churches of Christ being inlarged, and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.’
This statement has been attributed to the millenarianism current among Independents in the late 1640’s, but it should be noted that the Savoy divines, among whom was John Owen, declined to identify this period of the Church’s highest development with the millennium. Moreover, this same belief was maintained by staunch Presbyterians as, for instance, Thomas Manton (author of the ‘Epistle to the Reader’ in the Westminster Confession), David Dickson and Samuel Rutherford. Before Rutherford met any of the English Independents he wrote from St. Andrews in 1640: ‘I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Cant. 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world.’ This was no millennialism as Rutherford was careful elsewhere to say, ‘I mean not any such visible reign of Christ on earth, as the Millenaries fancy.’
Forty years later this same belief was the common testimony of the Covenanting field-preachers who upheld the confession of the Church of Scotland in its purity during ‘the killing times’. Richard Cameron preached on July 18, 1680 just three days before his violent death on the moors at Ayrsmoss, from the text, ‘Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen: I will be exalted in the earth.’ (Psa. 46.10). To his hearers, gathered with him under the shadow of eternity, Cameron declared:
‘You that are in hazard for the truth, be not troubled: our Lord will be exalted among the heathen. But many will say, “We know He will be exalted at the last and great day when He shall have all the wicked on His left hand.” Yes but says He, “I will be exalted in the earth.” He has been exalted on the earth; but the most wonderfully exalting of His works we have not yet seen. The people of God have been right high already. Oh, but the Church of the Jews was sometimes very high, and sometimes the Christian Church! In the time of Constantine she was high. Yea, the Church of Scotland has been very high, “Fair as the moon, clear as the sun; and terrible as an army with banners.” The day has been when Zion was stately in Scotland. The terror of the Church of Scotland once took hold of all the kings and great men that passed by. Yea; the terror of it took hold on Popish princes; nay, on the Pope himself. But all this exalting that we have yet seen is nothing to what is to come. The Church was high, but it shall be yet much higher. “There is none like the God of Jeshurun.” The Church of Christ is to be so exalted that its members shall be made to ride upon the high places of the earth. Let us not be judged to be of the opinion of some men in England called the Fifth-Monarchy men, who say that, before the great day, Christ shall come in person from heaven with all the saints and martyrs and reign a thousand years on earth. But we are of the opinion that the Church shall yet be more high and glorious, as appears from the book of Revelation, and the Church shall have more power than ever she had before.’
The above four classifications cannot be taken as exact; they are an approximation. The Puritans, apart from the Fifth Monarchists — if they can be classed as Puritan at all — had no party divisions determined by prophetic beliefs. Yet the seventeenth century was the formative period of the differing schools of thought on prophecy which at a later date are more sharply identifiable. The fact that a present-day classification of evangelical prophetical belief would prove very similar seems to show that few new considerations have entered into the debate in the last three hundred years.
Having thus looked in general at Puritan thought on prophecy we shall now turn to a chapter of Scripture which lay at the heart of the matter.
There awaits the Gentiles, in their distinctive identity as such, gospel blessing far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy, and this unprecedented enrichment will be occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.’
JOHN MURRAY The Epistle the Romans, chapter 11. 11-12
THERE are several reasons why the future of the Jews was a subject of importance in the minds of so many Christians in the seventeenth century. For one thing they considered that a concern for the welfare of that scattered nation is a necessary part of Christian piety. Of the Jews, concerning the flesh, Christ came; to them first was the gospel preached, and from them was it received by the Gentiles: ‘Which should teach us’, writes Edward Elton, ‘not to hate the Jews (as many do) only because they are Jews, which name is among many so odious that they think they cannot call a man worse than to call him a Jew; but, beloved, this ought not to be so, for we are bound to love and honour the Jews, as being the ancient people of God, to wish them well, and to be earnest in prayer to God for their conversion’.
We shall later note how this awareness of duty towards the Jews did enter into the day-to-day living of many Christians in the seventeenth century. And yet their interest in Israel was always set in a wider context than the particular future of that nation; it was Israel’s future within the kingdom of Christ and the relation between their incoming and the advancement of Christ’s glory that was uppermost in their thinking. The future of the Jews had decisive significance for them because they believed that, though little is clearly revealed of the future purposes of God in history, enough has been given us in Scripture to warrant the expectation that with the calling of the Jews there will come far-reaching blessing for the world. Puritan England and Covenanting Scotland knew much of spiritual blessing and it was the prayerful longing for wider blessing, not a mere interest in unfulfilled prophecy, which led them to give such place to Israel.
We shall be concerned, firstly, in this chapter, with what was claimed as New Testament evidence for a future general conversion of the Jews. The two gospel texts Matthew 23.38, 39 and Luke 21.24 were sometimes cited. In these Christ appears to place a limit to the period during which a general judgment will rest upon the Jews and, by implication, to suggest that a brighter day for them would subsequently follow: ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’; ‘For I say unto you: ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’. The words ‘Blessed is he that cometh’ remind us of the greeting and welcome given to Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem, (Matt. 21.9) and the reference to their future use by the Jews suggests that their long continued hardiness as a nation is one day to end ‘the cordial welcome is contrasted with the factual position at the time’ when Jesus spoke. The fact that Jesus did not entirely dismiss the question put to him by the disciples before his ascension, ‘Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel’, may also be suggestive. Another passage more often quoted by the Puritans was 2 Corinthians 3.15, 16: ‘But even unto this day, when Moses is read the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.’ ‘Alas,’ writes Increase Mather, ‘there is a veil of miserable blindness upon their hearts that they cannot, they will not, see the Truth: But, saith the Apostle, “This shall be taken away”. And (saith he) “it shall turn”. What is this? I answer: “It”, there may note the body of the Jewish nation, or the words may be read, “They shall turn” (i.e. the blinded minds of the Jews shall turn) “unto the Lord”.’
Another New Testament text sometimes cited by seventeenth century divines was Revelation 16.12, which speaks of the drying up of the river Euphrates ‘that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared’. It was suggested that ‘kings of the east’ is a reference to the Jews scattered in the East beyond the Euphrates.
Much might be said on these texts but it must be confessed that in the case of each a considerable amount of obscurity remains, and even taken together they scarcely amount to definite evidence of a future conversion of the Jews as a people. It was not, however, upon these texts that Puritan expositors placed the weight of the case. With reference to those who expected ‘a large and visible addition of Jews to Christ’s church’, Johannes Wollebius (1586—1629) the Reformed theologian of Basel, noted that ‘nothing that would uphold this idea may be found in the Apocalypse’. But he adds, ‘Those who teach it look to Romans 11.25-26 for their chief authority’. There can be no doubt that Wollebius’ last assertion is correct and that the Puritan view of Israel’s future, as far as the New Testament is concerned, rests principally upon their exposition of that chapter. ‘I know not any Scripture containing a more pregnant and illustrious testimony and demonstration of the Israelites’ future vocation,’ says Mather, ‘it being a main scope of the Apostle in this chapter to make known this Mystery unto the Gentiles.’ Similarly the eminent Scottish divine, James Durham, writes: ‘Whatever may be doubted of their restoring to their land, yet they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us.’ In the eighteenth century Jonathan Edwards was a spokesman for the same conviction when he wrote, Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11. To this chapter, therefore, and its interpretation, we must now turn.
The verses referred to by Wollebius read:
v.25. ‘For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
v.26. ‘And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’
A number of questions are involved in the interpretation of these two verses:
The blindness spoken of in verse 25 clearly belongs to Israel as a race, with the exception of a believing remnant —hence the qualification of the Apostle, ‘blindness in part has’ happened to Israel’. Does the salvation of verse 26 likewise designate a blessing which will belong to the Jewish people as a whole and as a race? Who are the ‘all Israel’ who shall be saved?
Some Reformation commentators, notatbly Calvin, took the view that the ‘all Israel’ of verse 26 refers to the sum total of the complete Church, including both Gentile Christians and the remnant of believing Jews. It does not, they thought, designate national Israel at some future point in history. This spiritualization of the term ‘Israel’ is not as strained as some have alleged. Two chapters earlier Paul is careful to show that race as such does not make a true Israelite (Rom. 9.6), and elsewhere Gentile believers are acknowledged as being of Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3.29); in the New Testament perspective, national privileges in regard to salvation have ended and on at least one occasion the term ‘Israel of God’ is taken to describe the whole Church of Christ (Gal. 6.16). But there are strong reasons for not accepting this interpretation of the word ‘Israel’ in Romans 11.26.
(i) It would involve a violent transition from the literal meaning of the term in verse 25 to a spiritual one in verse 26, and the passage gives no indication that such a sudden difference of meaning is being introduced. On the contrary, it may be argued that Paul’s usage of the term ‘Israel’ in this whole section is consistent and uniform. As Doekes observes: ‘In these three chapters (Rom. 9—11) the term “Israel” occurs no less than eleven times. And in the preceding ten cases it refers indisputably to the Jews, in contrast with the Gentiles. What compelling reason can there be, therefore, to accept another meaning here? Not, to be sure, the context, for the differentiation between Jews and Gentiles does not cease in verse 25 but is continued in the verses which follow.’
(ii) If the ‘all Israel’ of verse 26 refers to the final salvation of all believers, Jew and Gentile why does Paul call it a mystery? Elnathan Parr’s objection is relevant: ‘Paul saith that he would not have the Gentiles ignorant; of what? That all the elect. should be saved? Whoever doubted it? But of the calling of the Jews there was a doubt. He calls it a secret or mystery; but that all the elect shall be saved is no secret.’
Accepting that Israel in verse 26 means Jewish people and not the Church as such, we must now proceed to a further question.
2. Is the salvation of ‘all Israel’ something that is progressively realized through the ages? Does it refer to the complete number of individual Jews who through the centuries have been added to the Church by faith in Christ, as for example Paul in the first century, Emmanuel Tremellius at the Reformation, Adolph Saphir in the nineteenth century, and so on? Some commentators have answered this in the affirmative and argued that Paul, in verses 25 and 26, is not speaking about a still-future conversion of the Jews as a nation. The apostle does not, they say, teach a temporal sequence in the order of events not ‘after the incoming of the fulness of the Gentiles then all Israel shall be saved’. ‘Paul,’ says a recent writer holding this view, ‘is not thinking about the time but about the way or manner in which “all Israel” is saved.” According to this interpretation, the hardening judicially inflicted upon Israel as a body will continue until the last of the elect Gentiles are saved, that is, until the very end; nevertheless through all the centuries a portion of elect Jews will escape that hardening, and this body — the entire Jewish remnant is the ‘all Israel’ who are to be united for ever with Gentile believers in the fold of God.
If this view is correct, then Romans 11 gives us no grounds for expecting any saving work of conversion among the Jews surpassing what has yet been seen in history: there is no prediction of a great revival among the Jews still to come. This exposition of Romans 11 was apparently common in the early seventeenth century, but it was almost uniformly rejected by English and Scottish exegetes of the Puritan school. Charles Ferme, for example, mentioned earlier as one of Robert Rollock’s students in Edinburgh in the 1580's who later became eminent in his witness and suffering for the gospel, gives this comment on verses 25 and 26:
‘As some, reserved of God through the election of grace, owned Christ as Lord in the days of Paul, so when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have been brought in, the great majority of the Israelitish people are to be called, through the gospel, to the God of their salvation, and shall profess and own Jesus Christ, whom, formerly, that is, during the time of hardening, they denied.... This interpretation of the passage is most pertinent to the scope of the present discussion; but because that recall of the Israelites is not yet witnessed in respect to the majority, most interpreters explain the passage differently, and understand what the apostle here says — “all Israel shall be saved”, of Israel in spirit, and also of all Israelites according to the flesh, who at any time have believed, whether in times of apostasy, as were those of Ahab and Paul, or of open profession, as that of David, or of reformation, as those of Hezekiah and Josiah. In this way the meaning will be — “that the Gentiles having been added, through the gospel, to the people of God, that is, to the Israelites, who are Israelites in spirit, as well as according to the flesh, ‘all Israel’, viz. Israel in the spirit, consisting of the elect from among Jews and Gentiles, ‘shall be saved’ at the second coming of Christ”.”
Ferme’ s valuable work on Romans lay unpublished until 1651 but long before that date the interpretation he held to be ‘most pertinent’ had obtained general acceptance.
As we noted in the previous chapter, it had been advanced in the notes of the Geneva Bible as early as I560 and expounded in Peter Martyr’s commentary on Romans published in English eight years later.
The argument against ‘all Israel’ being interpreted as ‘the entire remnant of Israel’ involves a wider consideration of the whole chapter. In summary form it may be stated as follows:
Paul, in putting the question ‘Hath God cast away his people?’ (v. I), opens the subject of the cast-off condition of Israel and the problem how that condition is consistent with the promises and purposes of God. It is true, he says, that as a body they have fallen, but there is a remnant who believe in accordance with God’s sovereign determination (v v. 2-10). The grace of God has prevented the apostasy of Israel being total and universal. The question, however, remains: Has God finished with the Jews collectively considered as a people? ‘I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?’ Did their fall fulfill God’s ultimate purposes towards them? ‘God forbid!’ (v.11). We do not, Paul affirms, see the conclusion of God’s design in Israel’s fall because that fall is overruled for the salvation of Gentiles; which salvation is, in turn, intended to prompt Israelites to repentance and faith (‘provoke them to jealousy’). Grace, not judgment, is thus God’s ultimate purpose. Israel’s stumbling is made the occasion for salvation coming to the Gentiles and that is not the end, for, as the apostle goes on to show, God has further planned the salvation of Israel on a scale which will enrich the Gentiles to a degree hitherto unprecedented:
v.I 2. ‘Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
v.13. ‘For I speak to you Gentiles, in as much as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
v14 ‘If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.’
The effect upon Paul personally of the truth declared in verse I2, he wishes his Gentile hearers to know, is to quicken him in his Gentile ministry so that the success of that ministry may serve to awaken Jews. But along with his concern for his fellow countrymen there is a greater end in view because the interests of the Gentiles themselves are bound up with God’s design towards Israel.
v.15. ‘For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?’
Concluding the parenthesis of verses 13 and 14 on his present ministry with its hope of saving ‘some of them’, Paul reverts to the prospect already envisaged in verse 12. According to the view we are here opposing, the prediction of verses 12 and 15 has to do with the aggregate of individual Jews saved through the ages and not a future national conversion. But the verses cannot bear that meaning for it ignores a vital part of Paul’s argument, namely that the parallel drawn between the ‘casting away’ and ‘the receiving of them’ requires the subject to be the same in both instances. The people who were rejected are to be readmitted.
The remnant of believers never fell nor were cut off, and it cannot therefore be of them that Paul says they will be ‘received’ and grafted in again (v.23). Thus Elnathan Parr, answering those who denied that ‘any other calling of the Jews to be expected than in these days, now and then one’, asserts: ‘the very reading of the words of the 11, 12 and this verse, make the contrary manifest: If the casting away of them of whom? Of the nation, say learned men: What shall the receiving of them? Of whom? Of them which are cast away; that is the nation: or else we make the Apostle say he knows not what: not that the same individuals of the nation which are cast away shall be received, but the body of the people to be understood.”
The sense of verses 12 and 15, according to the common Puritan interpretation, points to a vast addition to the Church by Israel’s conversion with resulting wider blessing for the world. There is a great revival predicted here!
John Brown, minister of Wamphray, Scotland, gives the following exposition in his Exposition of Romans, 1666, and it may be taken as typical of the whole school to which he belonged.
In verse 12, Brown says, the apostle meets a difficulty which might arise in the minds of Gentiles following the disclosure of verse 11 that the hardening of the Jews was not the final dispensation of God towards them. If room has been made in God’s kingdom by the casting out of the Jews, the thought might occur that the restoration of the Jews would lead to the Gentiles being cast out. ‘To this the apostle answereth, that, on the contrary, the Gentiles shall have braver days then, than ever they had; for if their fall, or stumbling, was the occasion by which the Gentiles dispersed up and down the world, enjoyed the riches of the gospel and of the knowledge of God in Christ, and their diminishing (to the same purpose, and explicating what is meant by their fall) that is, their rejecting of the Messias for the most part, so as there were but few behind, and that nation was worn to a thin company and a small number of such as embraced the gospel, be the riches of the Gentiles, the same with the riches of the world; how much more shall their abundance be? that is, How much more shall their inbringing and fulness, or the conversion of the body and bulk of that nation (for it is opposed to their diminishing) tend to the enriching of the Gentile world in the knowledge of Christ; and so the Gentiles need not fear that the conversion of the Jews shall any way prejudice them; but they may expect to reap advantage thereby.’
On verse 15, the minister of Wamphray continues: ‘In this verse the apostle doth further explain and illustrate that argument set down, verse 12, and useth other expressions to the same purpose; If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days thro’ the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?’
In the verses which follow there are three further reasons why the Jews’ conversion is to be expected: because of the holiness of the first-fruits and the root, v16; because of the power of God, ‘God is able to graft them in again’, v23; and because of the grace of God manifested to the Gentiles, v24, who would in turn be the means of salvation to the Jews, ‘that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy’ v31. Matthew Henry illustrates the last reason thus, ‘If the putting out of their candle was the lighting of yours, by that power of God who brings good out of evil, much more shall the continued light of your candle, when God’s time is come, be a means of lighting theirs again’.
All these considerations lead to the conclusion that in verses 25 and 26 Paul is speaking of the realization in future history of what the predictions of the earlier verses point towards, namely the termination of the long period of Israel’s blindness, and the resulting salvation of a large mass of that people. The ‘all Israel’ is not the believing remnant of all centuries but the body of the Jews received again at a particular period in history. The mystery of which Paul would not have them ignorant is, in Parr’s words, ‘that when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, there shall be a famous, notorious, universal calling of the Jews’. This is not to say that every individual Israelite will then be converted; despite the thousands of believing Jews in the apostolic period the casting away of the Jews was so general that it permitted the assertion that Israel was cast off, so, despite those who will remain unbelieving, the number to be ingathered will be of an extent which justifies the expression ‘all Israel shall be saved’.
3. We have already in part anticipated and answered a third and last question, but it now needs closer attention. In the last chapter we noted that a number of seventeenth-century expositors believed in a future general conversion of Israel but placed the event at the very end of history. This view has contemporary upholders, one of whom writes, ‘All Israel can be saved only as the last rays of the sun fade away for ever and light celestial takes’ their place’.’ Justification for this belief is taken from two statements in Romans 11 which we must now consider.
First, Paul’s words on the incoming of ‘the fulness of the Gentiles’ (v.25), are taken to mean the conclusion of the kingdom of God in the world — ‘the fulness’ being equated with the complete number of the elect from among the Gentiles. If this is so, then the salvation of ‘all Israel’ which is to attend this fulness of the Gentiles must take place on the verge of eternity and signal the end of Gospel blessing for the world.
Paul’s use of the word ‘fulness’ earlier in Romans 11 does not, however, necessitate this meaning. The period of Israel’s fall in verse 12 is contrasted with her changed condition at the time of her ‘fulness’; fulness, then, for Israel cannot mean the sum total of elect Jews because there were obviously elect Jews at the time of her fall. ‘Fulness’ in verse 12 means the large numerical increase of converted Jews, but not excluding the possibility others being subsequently added. So in verse 25 it is not necessary to believe that ‘fulness’ means anything more than a large addition of Gentiles, ‘a multitude of the Gentiles’, says Matthew Poole’s Annotations, ‘greater by far, than was in the apostles’ days’. The verse says nothing which requires us to expect no further expansion of the kingdom of Christ thereafter. As a recent commentator writes, ‘“The fulness of the Gentiles” denotes unprecedented blessing for them but does not exclude even greater blessing to follow.”
A second statement quoted from Romans 11 to justify the belief that the conversion of the Jews will be at the end of the world is the phrase in verse 15, ‘what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?’ In these words Paul is adding to what he has already said in verse 12. In that verse he did not say what the blessing would be which would accompany the incoming of the fulness of the Jews but left it in the form of an exclamation: ‘If the fall of them be the riches of the world.. . how much more their fulness?’ ‘How much more?’ comments Parr, ‘as if he admired it and were not able to express or conceive.’ In verse 15, however, Paul does specify something of the nature of the blessing, it will be ‘life from the dead’. Some interpreters, including Origen and Chrysostom in the early centuries, take this phrase as referring to the physical resurrection of the dead, and so taken the verse would prove that the conversion of the Jews must be placed at the very end of time.
But there is no necessity for the phrase to be so taken in a literal sense. As Poole notes, life from the dead is ‘a proverbial speech, to signify a great change’. Certainly in the Scriptures the idea of resurrection is frequently used with a spiritual and figurative meaning. It is so employed by the prophets as, for example in Hosea 6.2, ‘the third day he will raise us up and we shall live in his sight’, and in Ezekiel 37, where Israel’s spiritual revival is forcefully described as their coming out of their graves. In Christ’s teaching, conversion is likened to quickening the dead (John 5.21), and the restored prodigal is characterized as one who ‘was dead and is alive again’ (Luke 15.32).
Not only is a spiritual interpretation of the phrase ‘life from the dead’ possible, there are indeed good grounds for regarding it as preferable.
(i) Verses 12 and 15 speak of the interaction between Jews and Gentiles in the advancement of the kingdom of God, and the riches coming to the Gentiles on the occasion of the Jews’ defection is represented as being exceeded by the blessing which would attend their restoration. While it is true that resurrection and glorification are the final and highest blessings belonging to the Church, they are benefits which do not naturally succeed to the Gentiles as a result of Israel’s recovery. But taking ‘life from the dead’ figuratively, Paul’s progression of thought advances smoothly: if Israel’s fall and dishonour brought the gospel of reconciliation to the Gentiles, how much more will her renewal and restoration to honour bring revival to the world? ‘For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?’ As Godet paraphrases it, ‘When cursed, they have contributed to the restoration of the world; what will they not do when blessed?’
(ii) The second advent of Christ which will accomplish the resurrection of the dead will bring a consummation of blessing to the Church — not an extension of it to either Jew or Gentile (2 Thess. I .9—I0). If the conversion of the Jews were understood to be in any way linked with the resurrection day the uniform teaching of many other parts of Scripture would require some time lapse to occur between the two. As Parr observes: ‘Though God can save men in an instant, yet he hath appointed means, which means cease at the resurrection, and therefore no calling to be then expected: for that is the time of revealing judgement, not of preaching Mercie.” This qualification of a time lapse must therefore be introduced in the literal view, the conversion of sinners and the coming of Christ to judgment being two quite separate things. On the other hand, if ‘life from the dead’ be understood spiritually it is easily apparent, according to the analogy of other scriptures, how the conversion of a large mass of people — a nation — would at once contribute to far-reaching quickening in the world. ‘And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed.
... For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as a garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations’ (Isa. 61.9—11).
(iii) Finally, as John Murray has carefully shown in his recent Exposition of Romans, the standard Pauline phrase to denote the resurrection of the body is ‘resurrection from the-dead’: nowhere else does ‘life from the dead’ refer to the physical resurrection and its closest parallel, ‘alive from the dead’ (6.13) refers to spiritual life.’
For reasons such as these, Puritan exegetes (comparable in this to Ambrose the early Church Father) took ‘life from the dead’ figuratively. Thus the marginal note of the Geneva Bible gives this note on Romans 11.15: ‘The Jewes now remain, as it were, in death for lack of the Gospel, but when both they and the Gentiles shall embrace Christ, the world shall be restored to a new life.’
This belief introduced a new perspective in the Puritan understanding of history. While some retained the view that Romans 11 taught a conversion of the Jews at the end of time, there is evidence that the main-stream of belief became committed to the view given above. In 1652, for example, eighteen of the most eminent Puritan divines, including men of presbyterial convictions as William Gouge, Edmund Calamy and Simeon Ashe, and Independents as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, wrote in support of missionary labours then being undertaken in New England and affirmed their belief that:
‘the Scripture speaks of a double conversion of the Gentiles, the first before the conversion of the Jewes, they being Branches wilde by nature grafted into the True Olive Tree instead of the naturall Branches which are broken off. This fulness of the Gentiles shall come in before the conversion of the Jewes, and till then blindness hath happened unto Israel, Rom. 11.25. The second, after the conversion of the Jewes… 20
Before we leave Romans 11 we must comment on one other issue of major significance which cannot be passed over. A great part of the differences among Christians over prophecy relates to the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. Those who insist on what is called the literal principle of interpretation argue that the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies respecting Israel’s future blessing and the world-wide success of Christ’s kingdom cannot be in the present age: the personal advent of Christ must intervene to introduce a new dispensation. According to this view certain of the grand predictions of Isaiah and the Prophets apply not to the Christian Church in her present form but to a future millennial kingdom.
It is difficult to understand how this opinion can be maintained in the light of the New Testament writers’ own use of the Prophets. The fact is that the age of highest blessing predicted by the Prophets is spoken of by the apostles as already in being — God’s gathering to himself a people (Hos. 2.23), Christ’s reign over the Gentiles (Isa. 11.10), and the day of world-wide salvation (Isa. 49.8); these are all texts quoted by Paul as having a present fulfilment (cf. Rom. 9.26; 15.12; 2 Cor. 6.2). Similarly we find James in Acts 15.14, 16, referring the prediction of Amos 9.11, ‘In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen’, to the conversion of Gentiles in the apostolic era, and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, far from restricting the great predictions of Jeremiah 3’ to Israel in a future age, considers the privileges there described as already possessed in the New Testament Church (compare Jer.31.31 and Heb. 8.8). There is here not a trace of the idea that the witness of the Prophets to an age of coming blessedness must be referred to a millennial kingdom introduced by the Second Advent. On the contrary. there is plenty to warn us that the literal principle is a dangerously misleading guide to the interpretation of the Prophets. Paul is certainly not employing that principle in Galatian 4.26, 27 when he distinguishes the Jerusalem ‘which now is, and is in bondage with her children’, from ‘Jerusalem which is above’, and which he tells the Galatian believers ‘is the mother of us all’. It is to this spiritual Jerusalem that he then proceeds to apply the glorious prediction of Isaiah 54.1. The assertion that prophecies spoken of ‘Zion’ or ‘Jerusalem’ in the Old Testament can only refer to national Israel is untenable.
Recognizing this, another school of prophetic interpreters has argued that no Old Testament predictions respecting Israel await fulfilment. The fulfilment has already occurred in the Christian Church. But this claim goes too far, for it leaves out of account Paul’s use of the Prophets in the chapter of Romans now under consideration. Having opened, as we have seen, the divine mystery that the casting off of Israel was not final, he turns for confirmation to the inspired testimony of Scripture: ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be Saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins’ (v. 25b—27). This quotation, taken from Isaiah 59.20 and Jeremiah 31.34, would be valueless in this context were it not that the words quoted collaborate what Paul has already affirmed respecting Israel. The way he employs these texts is proof that the full scope of Old Testament prophecy has not yet been realized in history.
This is of major significance. We have already noted that predictions of Christ’s kingdom in Isaiah and in Jeremiah were considered applicable by the New Testament writers to the Church in the Apostolic age. Paul's use of the same prophets in Romans 11.26, 27 now shows that the fulfilment was only initial and by no means exhaustive. A larger fulfilment still awaits the Church, when the same covenant faithfulness of God which has already brought gospel blessings to the Gentile world will be the cause of the removal of Israel’s sins. Gentile and Jew are thus both contained in the same Old Testament predictions, and because these predictions admit of successive fulfilments and speak of the same salvation there is nothing to prevent what has already been referred to New Testament converts being applied to the future conversion of Israel. Jeremiah 31.34 has both been fulfilled (Heb. 8.8) and is yet to be fulfilled in a day of greater gospel blessing (Rom. 11.27).
If this is the right lesson to draw from Paul’s use of the Prophets in Romans 11 then there is a key given to us for the interpretation of a number of Old Testament prophecies which are similar to the two particular texts which Paul quotes. The Puritans saw this clearly and used the key to good effect in their expositions of the Old Testament. An illustration of this can be taken from the works of the eminent Robert Leighton. In a sermon on Isaiah 60. I entitled ‘Christ the Light and Lustre of the Church’, preached when he was minister of Newbattle, Scotland, in January, 1642, he had no hesitation in applying the exhortation, ‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come’, to the whole Church. At the same time he knew that Isaiah 60. 1-3 stands related to what is predicted in Isaiah 59.20, and that the latter verse is referred by the apostle particularly to Israel’s salvation. He therefore gives to his text its full scope:
‘This prophecy is, out of question, a most rich description of the kingdom of Christ under the Gospel. And in this sense, this invitation to arise and shine is mainly addressed to the mystical Jerusalem, yet not without some privilege to the literal Jerusalem beyond other people. They are first invited to arise and shine, because this Sun arose first in their horizon. Christ came of the Jews, and came first to them. . . . Undoubtedly, that people of the Jews shall once more be commanded to arise and shine, and their return shall be the riches of the Gentiles (Rom. 11.12), and that shall be a more glorious time than ever the Church of God did yet behold. Nor is there any inconvenience if we think that the high expressions of this prophecy have some spiritual reference to that time, since the great doctor of the Gentiles applies some words of the former chapter to that purpose, Rom. 11.26. They forget a main point of the Church’s glory, who pray not daily for the conversion of the Jews.’ George Hutcheson, in his valuable Brief Exposition on the Small Prophets, uses this same broad principle of interpretation. Expounding Hosea 2.23, ‘And I will sow her unto me in the earth, and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy. . .‘ he writes: ‘The Apostle doth apply this also, Rom. 9.25, to Israel in the spirit of Jew and Gentile, who were brought in to Christ even in his time, because the Covenant is the same with all the confederates, and there was then some accomplishment in part of this prediction. But the full accomplishment thereof is reserved for Israel (of whom this chapter speaks most expressly) at their Conversion as a Nation. And if we take it up as comprehending Jew and Gentile ; yet the full accomplishment thereof reserved for that time wherein the Conversion of Israel shall be accompanied with the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles, and be as a life from the dead to the world, Rom.11.15, 25, 26.’
Concluding, then, this short survey of the Puritan treatment of Israel in Romans11, the following points summarize the views which came to prevail:
I. The salvation now possessed by a remnant of believing Jews is yet to be enjoyed by far larger numbers of that race.
2. At the time when Paul wrote, this was not to be expected until a considerable number of the Gentiles had been evangelized and their evangelization would thus hasten the day of Israel’s calling: ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in’.
3. In the economy of salvation there is an interaction appointed by God between Jew and Gentile; gospel blessing came to the world by Israel’s fall, a yet greater blessing will result from her conversion.
4. Nothing is told us in Romans 11 of the duration of time between the calling of the Jews and the end of history. ‘The end of this world shall not be till the Jews are called, and how long after that none yet can tell’ (Parr).
5. The quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah, confirming Paul’s teaching, indicate that the full extent of gospel blessing predicted by the Prophets is yet to be realized. ‘As Isaiah, and other of the prophets, do put over this great flourishing of the church to the days of the gospel, the apostle, Rom.11 doth point at a more precise time wherein this in a larger measure shall be made out’ (Robert Fleming).
In modern times the acceptance of three beliefs has probably contributed largely to the assumption that the convictions just stated are merely of historic interest and not tenable for Christians today.
First, in the last hundred years the belief has held sway in English-speaking Protestantism that Christ’s advent must precede Israel’s conversion and the subsequent blessing of the world. Because main-stream Puritan thought did not accept this pre-millennial view of the advent, their position has been represented as encouraging the expectation of ‘a Christless and kingless millennium’, and, not surprisingly, where this charge has been believed, disinterest in Puritan teaching has been the result. To this subject we shall return in a subsequent chapter.
Second, another influential school of prophetic thought has maintained that any general or national conversion of Israel in the future would be inconsistent with the overriding message of the New Testament. This school of thought stresses that Israel, geographically and physically considered, could have distinct spiritual significance only in the period prior to the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. Now, in respect of the privileges of the gospel, there is no longer Jew or Gentile — the perspective is no longer national, but spiritual and universal. Jerusalem is no more to be the centre of worship as it once was (John 4.21). Pursuing this same line of thought in reference to Romans 11 William Hendriksen, writes:
‘If here in Romans 11.26a Paul is speaking about a still-future mass-conversion of Jews, then he is overthrowing the entire carefully built up argument of chapters 9-11 for the one important point which he is trying to establish constantly is exactly this, that God’s promises attain fulfilment not in the nation as such but in the remnant according to the election of grace.’
Such statements as these are important and valid against any view of Israel’s future which supposes she will receive salvation on terms other than those proclaimed in the Gospel, or that she will obtain spiritual privileges distinct from and above those possessed by Gentile Christians. But as we have already seen, this was not the Puritan view: Puritans did not believe that there are any special and unfulfilled spiritual promises made to Israel apart from the Christian Church. All that they asserted was that it was in no way inconsistent with the New Testament economy that there should be a great revival in the future, bringing Israel as a mass into the Church and thereby fulfilling, in John Murray’s words, a ‘particular design in the realization of God’s worldwide saving purpose’. Hendriksen’s assertion is not accurate enough: the burden of Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11is that salvation is of grace alone, but it is surely no necessary consequence of grace that it be confined to a remnant. Divine sovereignty may indeed justly so confine it, as Israel’s long-continued judicial blindness bears solemn witness, yet the same sovereignty may be displayed in a nation being born in a day and when converts are multiplied as the dew of the morning! There is no conflict between Paul’s gospel and the belief that in the ‘latter day glory’ vast numbers of the natural descendants of Abraham will own and serve their Redeemer, and that Israel will then show forth the glory of that gospel as, to a lesser extent, the English—speaking nations visited with revival have done in times past. Certainly, as the late J. Marcellus Kik wrote in 1948, the idea must be repudiated that Israel is to have some unique place in a future kingdom of God, but this does not leave us without belief in their future blessing:
‘Even in the present time there are some within the Church who simply cannot believe that the old dispensation has been terminated. They still look for a temporal Jewish kingdom whose capital, Jerusalem, will hold sway over all the earth. This was the carnal conception of this kingdom which Christ fought and the apostles opposed, and against which his Church must still fight. It is true that we look forward to the conversion of the Jewish nation, and that the whole world will be blessed by this conversion. But that is something entirely different from the idea of a temporal Jewish kingdom holding sway over all the nations of the world.’
In this connection it needs to be added that though a number of the Puritans believed that the Jews would be restored to their own country none supposed that the land of Israel would ever again have the theocratic and symbolic significance which it possessed during the Old Testament era. They would have agreed with the nineteenth-century Reformed author who, after stating the case for Israel’s restoration, wrote: ‘As to the question, then, what will the Jews do in the Holy Land? we reply that they will do just what the English do in England, or the Americans in America. They will traffic, will cultivate the soil, will fill professional and mechanical pursuits, and be a Christian people, in an interesting and important country.’
A third commonly-accepted belief which militates against a consideration of the Puritan view is that Scripture witnesses to a steadily worsening world and thus demands from us a very different expectation with regard to the whole period which lies between us and the coming of Christ. ‘Scripture certainly does not sustain the notion’, writes Herman Hoeksema, ‘that the Church will experience a period of great prosperity, antecedent to the coming of the Lord. The very opposite is true.’ If this assertion is correct then the exposition given of Romans 11 must ipso facto be erroneous.
There can be no doubt that both by alleged Scripture evidence and by appeal to the dark character of contemporary history, evangelical Christians have been long acclimatized to regard the opinion stated by Hoeksema as proven. We think, however, that it may be honestly questioned whether the Scripture passages appealed to can bear all that is deduced from them. Foremost among these passages is the Olivet discourse of Christ, recorded in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13. This prophetic discourse followed Christ’s announcement concerning the temple, ‘There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ — clearly a reference to the destruction of the city which came about at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70. In the discourse itself there is much that applies specifically to the ‘breaking off’ (Rom.11.19) of the Jewish nation in the first century A.D. The convulsion of the Roman Empire, earthquakes, ‘Jerusalem compassed with armies’, ‘the abomination of desolation... in the holy place’, the exhortation to pray that flight from the city would not be necessary on the Sabbath day, the appearance of false Messiahs - all these things point to events which were shortly to take place and which are now past history. The great tribulation predicted for the Jews on account of their apostasy has been fulfilled. As Paul writes, ‘the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost’ (1 Thess. 2. 16). And yet these texts and others in the Olivet discourse are often quoted as though they have had no fulfilment!
Nevertheless it is certainly true that the Olivet discourse looks forward to the second advent and it may well be that some of the ‘signs’ which preceded the overthrow of Jerusalem will recur on a grander scale as the world draws near its end; to accept this, however, is by no means the same as saying that the Olivet discourse comprehensively describes the whole course of world history between the first and second advents. The claim that what is in view is ‘the course of This Age down to the time of the end’, and that, therefore, ‘until the very end, evil will characterize this Age’, is one which, we think, goes beyond the evidence of our Lord’s own words.
Probably the next most frequently referred to passage in support of the view that the world will progressively darken is 2 Timothy, chapter 3, which commences, ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come’. The popular citation of this text without a consideration of its precise import and context is an unhappy illustration of how debate on prophetic issues is too often conducted. The peril of which Paul speaks is the contagion liable to be received from the prevalence of such men as those described in the verses which follow. In particular, they are ‘evil men and seducers’ (v. I3), who were alive at the time when Paul wrote, hence the exhortation to Timothy in verse 5, ‘from such turn away’. And while in their personal character they would go from bad to worse (v. I3), their public influence according to Paul was soon to pass. They resemble Jannes and Jambres who deceived Pharaoh and the Egyptians long ago, and like those two deceivers they were to have their day: ‘Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was’ (v. 8—9).
Paul was thinking primarily of his own time! The only wider bearing which we may legitimately give to the passage rests on verse one, where Paul says that during the whole period which he calls ‘the last days’ there would be a recurrence of perilous seasons or times. One such time had arrived even as Paul wrote this last letter to Timothy in the days of Nero; others were to follow — Paul does not say how many nor how often. All he does assert is that in the present dispensation (which is what the New Testament means by ‘the last days’), there were to be some periods of grievous conflict for the Church. This is far different from the claim that Paul expected nothing but such seasons and anticipated nothing but ever-increasing wickedness! In fact the New Testament gives us other features of ‘the last days’. It tells us that the full Pentecostal endowment of the Spirit belongs to ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17), and that the ‘last days’ is the new era in which God has spoken by his Son (Heb. 1.2). The last days are the gospel age, ushered in by Christ’s incarnation and death, and they are the last because no further earthly dispensation is to follow. The last has come!
Such is, we believe, the correct interpretation of 2 Timothy 3.1. In the words of Thomas Boston, in a sermon on ‘Perilous Times in the Last Days’, he says: ‘Even in the days of the gospel, in which sometimes there are sweet and glorious times, yet at other times there come difficult and perilous times.’ Similarly B. B. Warfield, after referring to the same passage, writes: ‘It would be manifestly illegitimate to understand these descriptions as necessarily covering the life of the whole dispensation on the earliest verge of which the prophet was standing . . . we must remember that all the indications are that Paul had the first stages of ‘the latter times’ in mind, and actually says nothing to imply either that the evil should long predominate over the good, or that the whole period should be marked by such disorders.’ It only remains to be said that while the Scriptures seem to indicate a time of serious declension immediately preceding the advent, this provides no proof that a great era of revival cannot intervene between now and Christ’s coming. One can [not argue logically from the evidence for a final apostasy —evidence sometimes overstated — that a downward tendency must mark all future history
But the objection may be raised, ‘If there is to be a great extension of Christ’s kingdom in the future, with attendant spiritual prosperity, how can a state of declension immediately preceding Christ’s appearing be harmonized with it?’ This question only has force if the calling of the Jews is envisaged as being so close to the end that time would scarcely allow for such progress and such a reversal. No proof however, is forthcoming to show that the period of time involved must be so limited in duration. As we have observed, Romans 11 says nothing on the length of the period between Israel’s salvation and the second advent. Peter Martyr’s answer to this same objection, written four hundred years ago, can therefore still stand:
‘What shall we say unto the words of Christ wherein he sayth, Doost thou thinke that when the sonne of man commeth he shall find faith upon the earth? Verely if the Jewes be in such great plenty converted unto Christ, and that with the commodity of the Gentiles, (Footnote: ‘With the commodity of the Gentiles’ is the translator’s rendering of Martyr’s ‘et cum utilitate Gentium’, literally, ‘with the benefit (or advantage) of the Gentiles’. Martyr’s Latin Romans was published the same year as the English version, 1568.) as we have before declared, then shall there remain much faith, which Christ when he returneth unto us shall find. But we may answere, that here is no contrariety…. peradventure the Jewes shall return again and shall acknowledge their Messias, and shall confirm the Gentiles being wavering and seduced. It is possible also, that when the Jewes shall believe, and the Gentiles shall after a certayne tyme put to their help, then, as the nature of the fleshe is, may arise some security, and licentiousness, especially if Antichrist follow, by means whereof an infinite number both of the Jewes and of the Gentiles may be alienated from Christ: so that that shall be true, that Christ when he commeth shall find very few which purely and sincerely shall confess him.’