Classroom Lectures: Jackson Seminary (1)
Post Millennialism, I
Our approach on the matter of eschatology this hour will be theological and philosophical, rather than exegetical. For an exegetical study I would recommend various works such as Alexander’s Commentary on Isaiah, Boettner’s book on The Millennium, and of course I’ve written something on the subject, Thy Kingdom Come.
When we examine the subject of eschatology, we find that the whole eschatological perspective has been, through the centuries, very heavily infected by neoplatonic and Manichaean thinking. So that as the Church, through the centuries, has approached the subject, it has had to do it with a handicap, the handicap of alien philosophies. We shall be dealing with the influence of some of the alien philosophies on the church fathers in passing, as we deal in epistemology, with Justin Martyr, sometime later, I don’t know whether it’s today or tomorrow. I’m a little mixed up on just where I am in my series, as far as Justin Martyr is concerned. But we have in Justin Martyr, for example a man of very great faith, who died a martyr for the faith, and yet there is no question that some of his statements are so deeply saturated with his pagan background, that you wonder at times how could a man make a statement like this and be a Christian. Thus, we should not be surprised that very often in the history of the Church, we do find very definitively, alien strands in Christian thought. Now the two alien strands we’re going to deal with particularly, are neoplatonism and Manichaeism, and first of all, let’s consider Manichaeism and what kind of an influence it has exercised on the Church. Manichaeism comes from Mani, the ostensible founder thereof. Manichaeism is related to Zoroastrianism, Mazdakism, and various Iranian dualistic religions. For Manichaeism, instead of there being one God, there are two equal gods. The god of matter, who created the material world, and the god of spirit, who created the spirit world.
Now here you have darkness, and here you have light. Here also you have evil, and here you have good. Now, there is no victory possible in Manichaeism. It is a religion without victory. History ends in a standstill, because both gods, both ultimate substances are equally powerful. You can choose which one you want to serve, so that you can follow the world of spirit or you can follow the world of matter. And very commonly, in the history of dualistic religions, men have chosen one side or another.
We have a long tradition of the infiltration of Manichaeism into Christianity, you have Bogomils, you have the Albigensians, and the cathars, and various other groups that were very influential in the early centuries, and especially in the Middle Ages, that were all Manichean.
Now, the influence of Manichaeism thus meant no victory is possible for either side. History ends in a standoff. You choose sides, and that’s the substance of it. You can forsake spirit, or you can forsake matter. There isn’t much difference between the two, neither has the victory over the other. St. Augustine, as you know, was a Manichean, as well as a neoplatonist, which is something else we’ll consider in a moment, before he became a Christian. And as a Manichean, he was very profoundly influenced by this, and very conscious, finally, of the fact that there was no victory here. There are lingering elements here and there, in Augustine, of Manichaeism, and Neoplatonism, in some of his early works, but he progressively broke with the remnants of this kind of thinking.
Now you find elements of Manichaeism in the Church today. For many people will look down upon the material world, and material things, and speak of spiritual things as though they were alone good. That’s nonsense. There is nothing good, per se, about that which is spiritual. Remember, Satan is a purely spiritual being. So the idea that is so prominent in some circles, that what we need is more spiritual Christianity, is rubbish. That’s a latent kind of Manichaeism, or sometimes a Neoplatonism, we’ll come to that later. It is not a return to a more spiritual religion that we need, but a return to biblical religion. And the Bible very clearly deals with the world of matter. St. Paul tells us the marriage bed is ‘honorable.’ It does not regard sex, for example, as Manicheans do, and Neoplatonists also for their own reasons, as something that is either bad, or lower.
When man fell, it was not as the scholastics held, that it was his material being that fell, while his spirit or mind remained unfallen, so that by reason, which is supposedly not fallen, the scholastics felt, you could reason your way back to God. In terms of Scripture Adam fell, the whole man fell. His mind was fallen, his body was fallen, everything in him was fallen, and Jesus Christ redeems the whole man. The whole man is in view in the new creation. The resurrection of the body, is an article of Christian faith, so that we rise again as a whole being, to enjoy life eternally. There is nothing about matter that is evil, per se, any more than there is anything about the spirit, that is evil, per se. This is the Manichean outlook, however. Two alien substances, you take your choice, never the twain shall meet!
On the other hand, Neoplatonism, which was a development of a philosophy of Plato, and particularly in Plotinus, took a very different view than Manichaeism, although it had certain resemblances. Again, it had two substances, mind and matter, or ideas, forms and matter. But instead of seeing them as two alien substances that were irrevocably different, it saw them in dialectical tension as higher and lower, so that mind, or idea, and form, was higher and matter was lower. And so progress, growth, in Neoplatonism was to forsake the world of matter, and move upward into spirit. And the more spiritual you became, the closer you were to truth. In terms of Neoplatonism the world of matter was the world of meaninglessness, irrelevance, and evil. Although it did not go so far as Manichaeism, in seeing the radical cleavage of the two. What you did in the realm of mind was determinative. And if you were not ruled by matter, you could deal very casually with the realm of matter. Thus, in the dialogues of Plato, we have actual accounts of the fact that at one of these meetings where they were chatting about philosophy, Socrates was engaged in homosexual play with one of the other people in the dialogue. Now, here was the great philosopher, the great moralist, of Greece. But what was the problem there? None! Because there was no urgency, no necessity to be bound by it, so it was not a matter of moral offense in Socrates, from the Neoplatonic perspective. Had he, however, felt a lust and been driven by his vice, that would have been different. But if you treated it casually, it was not really a sin. And this is why you treated fornication casually. It was not regarded as an offense among the Greeks. You were treating it as nothing. It was a part of the world of matter, it was irrelevant, it was lower. And just as you don’t take care of Kleenex as you do, say, of your shirt, when you take your shirt off, you put it in the wash and when it is laundered you put it away carefully, it’s something to be treated with respect. But a Kleenex you use and you throw away. So it is with the body. So the appetites of the body are to be treated casually and carelessly, and there’s no sin in that, it is only when you are compelled by the world of matter, and bound to it, that you have evil. So the idea of sin, in Neoplatonism, again is very radically anti-Biblical.
Now, for the Neoplatonist, the goal of man is to escape from the world of matter. Plotinus, who was a great figure in Neoplatonism, deeply regretted the fact that he had a body, and he longed for the time when he would be freed from the flesh. Thus, you have, both in Manichaeism, and in Neoplatonism, a fundamental disrespect for the material world. In Manichaeism it is the creation of an evil god, not of the good god. Therefore there is no concern about the redemption of the material world. It cannot be overcome, it cannot be redeemed, it is a perpetual enemy. In Manichaeism, the material world can be transcended, and the goal of history, and the goal of man, is to transcend matter and to become pure spirit. And therefore, the more the body decays, the better off you are. The church fathers, who went into the desert, were Neoplatonic. I have a little paperback that’s coming out soon: Flight From Humanity is the title, The Influence of Neo-Platonism on Christianity. And in it I cite some of the wild and extravagant practices, aesthetic practices that were normal for some of these desert monks. Of course, the desert monks were simply copying the pagan aesthetics who preceded them. Who were Greek and Roman, who were under the influence of Neoplatonism, and therefore running away from life, from the world. Now the influence of Manichaeism and Neoplatonism in the church, led of course, in the early centuries, to an emphasis on the monastic clergy as against the married clergy. For centuries the church had a married clergy. It was some centuries later before the idea of sacerdotal celibacy for all clergy was instituted, and it was not until after the Reformation that they really made it stick for the clergy. The reason for it was, of course, the horror of the world of the flesh, under Manichean and Neoplatonic influences.
For some centuries, in the Church of Rome, the monks were regarded as the real clergy, and they were called the regular clergy, and the parish priests were called the secular clergy. He had an inferior status, because after all, he still compromised with the world. He married, he lived in the world, he was not truly spiritual. There was a distrust of the family. It was only as a result of the influence of the Reformation, the strength the Reformation had, because of the development of the family, that the Church of Rome began to develop the cult of the holy family, and made a great deal of St. Joseph. So that the cult of St. Joseph has, since the Reformation, been the Catholic answer to the Protestant development of the family and family worship.
Now it’s not surprising that the eschatology of Rome very strongly reflected Manichaeism and Neoplatonism. In the Church of Rome, the goal was escape from this world. The emphasis was on the misery of man. Preaching emphasized what a sinful thing it was to live the life of flesh, and to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Now it’s very interesting to note that during the Puritan era in England, scholars tell us, one of the favorite texts of the Puritans was: “and Isaac was sporting with Rebecca, his wife.” And this was used over and over again, there are some really marvelous sermons, I’ve read some, by the Puritan preachers in England, to preach that marriage is godly and the marriage bed undefiled. That God made the whole man, and we are to rejoice in the things of mind and body as we use them under God. And there are some really beautiful sermons on this subject; I quote a passage from one of them on precisely this text in my little paperback on Neoplatonism. But you see you have moved into an entirely different world, the minute you come into this Puritan atmosphere. Instead of being joyless, and instead of being hostile to the body, the Puritans were the ones with whom the body came into its own. The usual caricature of the Puritan applies, not to the Puritans but to their successors in New England, the transcendentalists and the Unitarians. You see, when the term ‘transcendentalist’ was picked up, they were not thinking of transcending to God, to a supernatural realm, but transcending the material world in terms of Hegel’s ‘geist,’ mind or spirit, or soul.
And you’re probably familiar with the famous story of Margaret Fuller, one of the leading transcendentalists, who found it a problem that there was a universe, a material creation, and she could never overcome the feeling of horror: “why should such a horrible thing as matter, body, material creation, exist!?” And finally she wrote, with an air of great resignation, that she, she said: “I accept the universe,” with resignation. And Carlyle’s famous answer was, “Egad! she’d better!” I think however, Daniel Webster’s answer was very much more to the point. On one occasion, in, at Mt. Hope in Rhode Island, there was a conference, and in those days they had big, big old-fashioned outhouses with a little divider and you walked in and you went to this side if you were male, and to that side if you were female. And Margaret Fuller was in there on the female side, when Daniel Webster walked in, and it was a horror to Margaret Fuller, to have a body, and for the body to have any kind of urge. It was so degrading, so humiliating. So she had slipped out when she thought no one would be there, because this was a traumatic experience for her, because it brought home to her the horrible fact that she had a body. And Daniel Webster came in and he noticed her over there, and he averted his head and rumbled as he headed for the other side: “Madam, we are fearfully and wonderfully made!”
Now, you can see why, with this kind of background, you had the pessimistic worldview that characterized the Middle Ages. The despair of this world, the feeling that the best thing man could hope for was to be delivered from the body. And this, of course, progressively colored the medieval worldview, so that as the Middle Ages deepened, even in the attitude of worship, we see the difference. At the beginning of Western Europe, after the fall of Rome, we have some pictures of people as they worshiped, drawing from the like, and they’re very remarkable. We see them in church praying like this. With their hands outstretched, a very historic and Biblical form of prayer, to receive, you see, you pray expecting to get something. And their faces looking upward, to receive. But at the end of the Middle Ages, we have pictures of worshippers, and they’re hunched over, like this, in fear. There is no hope.
Now, it’s not surprising, as some writers lately have been telling us that with Puritanism postmillennialism came into its own. Now, as I point out in my little paperback, when Cambridge University was taken over by the Platonists, the Cambridge Platonists, Puritanism was killed, because they were the training ground of Puritan thought. But, until that happened, because they went to the Reformed faith, they were Calvinist to the core, they did two things that are of very great significance. First; they said: “God created Heaven and Earth and all things therein, God is the Creator of mind and body, so both are alike, were made very good. Both alike were redeemed by Jesus Christ, both alike have a destiny in Christ. Both alike are to reign eternally with Christ in the new creation, because the resurrection of the body is an article of our faith. Therefore the triumph of Christ is not only spiritual, it is material also. It is in history as well beyond history.” Thus they were postmillennial to the core. And second; they had a program for the conquest of the world. Scripture, Biblical law. I have a book forthcoming, I hope in April, according to the book binder it’ll be ready, it’s a nine hundred page book which is preliminary study, I will have a second book in maybe five or ten years, Institutes of Biblical Law. Because this was the program. God had given a law, whereby the earth was to be subdued by His saints, and all things brought into subjection to God, through His law-Word.
The Law therefore was a plan of conquest. The whole framework of the Law is postmillennial. Go back and read Deuteronomy twenty-eight. The promises concerning obedience and disobedience. Incidentally, that was the place where once, when the oath of office was taken, men opened the Bible in this country. You see, the idea of an oath is purely Biblical, the requirement of an oath of office in the United States in the Constitution is Biblical. A few years ago, I noticed that one of our Presidents, when he took the oath of office, took it on a covered Bible, which was fitting, but it used to be a closed Bible I mean, but it used to before an open Bible originally, Deuteronomy twenty-eight. Because you took the, when you take an oath, this is its meaning, and Dr. Meredith G. Kline, who doesn’t share my eschatology, has done some brilliant work on oath and covenant. It’s out in book form, I’m not sure of the title, but you’ll have it here in the library. Now, the substance of what he points out is, that when you took an oath, you swore to obey God and the covenant law. And you thereby invoked upon yourself the blessings of God’s promises for obedience, and His curses for disobedience. It’s a magnificent chapter incidentally, and if you’ve never preached on it, those of you who have churches at present, you most certainly should. Because God says:
“…if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.”
And so on, and then the curses, which are similar. The exact opposite for disobedience.
“Cursed shalt thou be in thy going out and thy coming in… and the fruit of the field and the fruit of thy body.”
In other words, God is totally operative in the whole man in the whole world. And where He is obeyed, there is total victory in every realm. Now these two emphases of Puritanism led to a tremendously optimistic outlook. It has been of late pointed out by Iain Murray in The Puritan Hope and Hulse in his book on The Restoration of Israel, how the great missionary effort of the last century and of the century before, was postmillennial in his faith and impulse predominantly.
Another fact of interest that has been developed of late by some historians in this country just beginning to be published, is this. The Puritans who came here were predominantly, not universally but predominantly, postmillennial. They came here self-consciously determined to establish God’s new Israel, or new Zion, as a hope for the world. To have an opportunity to do here what they could not do in the mother country, to build a nation in terms of God’s law word. And to make it the stronghold from whence all the nations were to be conquered. They had thus, a missionary task. A world mission. Now when they lost that hope and became amill’ and premill’, they began to decline. Then, with a man who, not always consistent in his Reformed theology, but at this point he was sound, he revived postmillennialism; Jonathan Edwards. Samuel Hopkins, and Joseph Bellamy. Men like Bushmen and others, American historians who don’t even know the word ‘postmillennial,’ but who none the less point out, that because they revived the original eschatology, an eschatology that was optimist, an eschatology of conquest, it was their followers who made possible American Independence. And some have gone so far as to say, without this revived eschatology there would have been no war of American Independence, and the United States would be today another Ireland. That’s the impact that this eschatology had. It was an eschatology of victory, which is the title I gave to the republication of Dr. Kik’s writings. And I recommend that very heartily to you, Dr. Kik is a very able writer, or was a very able writer in this field. Now I’ve tried to give you something of the theological, philosophical premises that under-gird eschatology.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder